Edinburgh Fringe 2010
Camille O’Sullivan performs songs by Tom Waits, Jacques Brel, Nick Cave and others in the challenging main house of the Assembly Rooms.
As usual, the set is inherently theatrical, with props, costumes, lighting all supporting the band and Camille as she inhabits the different emotional geographies of each song through different personas.
Camille builds an intimate rapport with the audience effortlessly, with ‘business’ between songs as much a part of the act as the songs themselves.
Camille O’Sullivan has been coming to the Fringe since 2004, and during that time played more intimate venues – the Spiegeltent or Queen’s Hall. So I was curious to see how she would make the transition to the cavernous space of the Assembly’s Music Hall with over 600 seats.
The answer is she manages extremely well – right from the start there is a sense of intimacy, of ritual, as she makes incantory gestures to her guitarist – part band leader, part witch – and this intimacy develops into easy banter and an openness with the audience.
Every song traverses a wide emotional and musical range, from the heartbreak of Brel’s Old Folks to the savage buffoonery of Wait’s God’s Away on Business. Every song is like a short story or poem, performed with at least one eye on its dramatic potential, and Camille achieves something extraordinary – without every really assuming different characters, she creates different personas for each song.
In fact, Camille is a brilliant clown – and I mean this as a deep compliment. She is present to every moment, every ‘mistake’ and capable of responding to it effortlessly and with self-depreciating humour. But above all else, she is a clown because she reminds us of life’s heartbreaks, mysteries, beauties and absurdities – swinging rapidly between laughter and pathos. She sings Cohen’s lines: ‘There’s a crack, a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in’ and you see she knows exactly what Leonard meant.
Her band accompany her sensitively, and though some of the lighting effects feel overly spectacular, others are cleverly integrated into the music. So while this show is bigger and brasher in some ways, Camille can still achieve a candour and a playfulness rare amongst any performer on the Fringe – so that when she sings Amsterdam unaccompanied it is so heartfel you hear the words to Brel’s classic as if for the first time. Magical.