By David Hennessy
Camille O’Sullivan brings her musical interpretation of Shakespeare’s epic poem The Rape of Lucrece to London for the first time this week. Described by Camille herself as a sad story beautifully told, The Rape of Lucrece tells the story of a chaste wife of a Roman officer, who is raped by the King’s son Tarquin. Through a mixture of spoken and sung verse Camille inhabits both Tarquin and Lucrece, playing the parts of both victim and abuser. Fintan O’Toole, literary editor of The Irish Times, said of the production: “Shakespeare, surely, could never have imagined such a stunning feminine repossession of a work so replete with male narratives. Thanks to O’Sullivan’s brilliance, we no longer have to.”
Camille and long term collaborator Feargal Murray wrote all the music to accompany the poem and after a four-night run at the RSC in Stratford-Upon-Avon in 2011, The Rape of Lucrece was a huge sell-out hit at the 2012 Edinburgh International Festival and won Camille the prestigious Bank of Scotland Herald Angel Award. The production continued its critical success in Australia, as part of the Sydney Festival 2013, and visited Melbourne, Dublin, Derry and The Hague.
The Irish World finds her back at the Royal Shakespeare Company where it all began: “We’ve gone on this great journey with it. You still kind of pinch yourself going: ‘How did we end up doing this thing with the Royal Shakespeare Company?’
“It’s a very beautiful narrative poem so it’s not a million miles away from what I like doing onstage with my own shows which is kind of singing stories and becoming different people and inhabiting different characters.
“When we first did it, I was just doing singing and then they said ‘we think you should do acting as well’, and I was like: ‘Are you kidding me? In the RSC? What are you doing to me?”
The well known cabaret performer has found a hidden talent in her own acting ability but confesses she’s far from being as comfortable acting as she is doing what she is known for: “There’s always a certain amount of doubt in my head about acting because singing to me is so natural but when you’re doing a Shakespeare poem, you need to act to make it like real life and when you bring a song into it, you can really multiply the anger by ten and the vulnerability by ten because that’s what songs do.
“It’s a powerful, sad story but the lyrics really do all the work. You don’t need to push it too much.
“A lot of people have said it has made Shakespeare so accessible and I kind of say to people sometimes: ‘Don’t go to a psychiatrist, just read Shakespeare. You’ll understand the workings of people’s inner mind’. That’s really what this poem/ play is about. It’s about what happens in people’s inner minds and how they handle it. That’s why the title is unfortunate because that’s a physical act but what’s really interesting about it is what happens to her, what she goes through. It’s about what happens when someone decides to do something awful to somebody else.
“He (Shakespeare) had an incredible understanding of a woman’s mind which fascinates me. I go: ‘How did he know women would react like that?’”
Born in London to Irish racing driver Denis O’Sullivan and French artist, Marie-José, Camille grew up in Passage West in Cork. She studied architecture but after she was involved in a near fatal car crash, she decided to pursue her passion of performing.
Camille released her debut album The Chaneling in 2012. Fans like to hang around after her musical shows, chatting to Camille and each other about the show. The Rape of Lucrece is no different: “People come out of it and they really want to talk about it and if they want to talk about it, it means it’s doing what theatre should do: Make you think about it. You’re not going, ‘I’ve got to get the 11 o’clock bus’.”
Now a mother, Camille didn’t tell anyone she was expecting in case it affected how they viewed the show. But Camille did notice changes in her own performance: “I remember thinking: ‘This is the strongest I’ve ever been in my life onstage, the most powerful’. Maybe it’s because there you are protecting this little one in you and you’re just aware of your strength. There’s a lot of times when you’re by yourself when doubt can set in.
“Some people had said to me: ‘This is probably the best gig I’ve ever seen’. I said: ‘Jesus, is it all going to be going downhill now when I’m not pregnant anymore?’”
For the full interview, see the July 12 Irish World.
The Rape of Lucrece is at Southbank Centre July 9-12
Camille celebrates ten years at the Edinburgh Fringe July 30 and 31.
For more information, go to: http://www.camilleosullivan.com/.