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The Rape of Lucrece


Royal Lyceum Theatre
5 stars
It’s a glorious sleight of hand, putting Brechtian style cabaret 
performed by a genuine Fringe phenomonan into the Edinburgh 
International Festival theatre programme. In Irish chanteuse Camille 
O’Sullivan’s vivid rendering of Shakespeare’s epic poem of one woman’s 
bloody violation and the self-destruction it inspires, EIF, along with 
the Royal Shakespeare Company, whose banner Elizabeth Freestone’s 
production falls under, have struck gold.

The intensity of what ensues is difficult to gauge from O’Sullivan’s 
chattily casual entrance with pianist and co-composer Feargal Murray. 
Dressed in a floor-length death-black dress and wearing her hair tied 
up on a sumptuous-looking stage piled high with stacks of paper and 
descending wall-hangings that veer from stained to distressed, 
O’Sullivan segues her introduction into Shakespeare’s verse with a 
seamless charm her Irish accent lures you in with.

This already is streets ahead of old-school readings of the poem, but 
when O’Sullivan moves into song, it becomes something else again, with 
Murray’s stark, down-tempo arrangements off-setting O’Sullivan’s 
mixture of torch-balladeering and laments with exquisitely nuanced 
richness. Together, all these elements conspire to construct something 
that is part contemporary spoken-word, part late-night songspiel, with 
the bluesy rasp that seeps out from around the edges of O’Sullivan’s 
voice lending a frightening and emotive weight to the story.

This isn’t just a concert, however. When O’Sullivan removes her coat to 
reveal a plain white slip, she lunges out of narrator-mode to take on 
the role of Tarquin with a brutal venom that works her discarded 
garment into the fatal act that follows. The final song, delivered 
partly without accompaniment, may be laden with tragedy, but such a 
gorgeous piece of work can feed into O’Sullivan’s repertoire for 
decades.

The Herald, August 23rd 2012

ends

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