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THE RAPE OF LUCRECE: BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE @ SWAN THEATRE, STRATFORD UPON AVON – REVIEW BY SHAY ROWAN 02/04/11

 
Entering the Swan Theatre for the first time is an experience in itself. A recently refurbished 450 seat, three tiered auditorium designed with a ‘thrust’ stage allowing greater closeness and interaction between actor and audience. It is a theatre steeped in tradition and the history of Shakespearian production and as the clock ticks towards 9pm, a tingling sensation of expectancy bristles through the air. 

After settling into our seats the first thing that strikes home is the stripped bare simplicity of the stage set consisting of no more than a grand piano to the rear of the stage, 3 piles of  A4 paper, and to the front right of stage, a pair of white shoes. Shakespeare’s “The Rape of Lucrece” is a beautiful poem in a narrative style – both provocative and tragic and tonight’s interpretation is to be performed as a monologue combined with an original musical score. You are left in no doubt that it will take an extraordinary performer to carry this off - enter Camille O’Sullivan.

For those unfamiliar with Camille’s previous work she is a singer and actress of immense talent who brings a force and conviction to everything that she does, whether it be in traditional acting roles or through her dark and dramatic interpretations of songs by (amongst others) Jacques Brel, Nick Cave and David Bowie in her stage shows which include “The Dark Angel” and “Chameleon”.(I couldn't resist posting a great Nick ave cover below)

The ability to create an intimacy with her audience is one of Camille’s greatest strengths and tonight is no exception. Having seen her perform many times I have to confess that I am biased and I make no apologies for this, and as soon as she enters the stage accompanied by her musical collaborator Feargal Murray she owns it. Bare footed and dressed in a white shirt covered by a black jacket she exudes a magnetic beauty that defies you to remove your gaze from her every movement. As she begins to set the scene for the poem in modern language, she prowls every inch of the stage engaging as many members of the audience as possible in contact with eyes so dark and expressive that they appear to look deep into your soul for reaction. She relates the story of how a group of principle members of the Roman army gather one evening following a successful siege and during their conversation they discuss the merits of their wives. Collatine’s description of his wife Lucrece builds a desire in the King’s son Tarquin that drives him and the poem to its fateful conclusion. Albeit unintentional, Collatines attempt to boost his own ego has turned his innocent wife into an object of desire. Perhaps the most amazing element of this performance is that despite the monstrous nature of Tarquin’s actions she manages to reveal the slow torment that he endures as any decent part of his being is driven back by the strength of his lust and despite knowing that this will destroy his own life as well as that of Lucrece, he gives in to it. Camille’s hauntingly emotive singing voice and Feargal Murray’s melancholic playing is aided still further by atmospheric lighting which adds so much to the drama of the piece.

After Camille has led us through the torment of Lucrece’s violation she removes her jacket, unpins her hair to let it tumble over her shoulders and pours out her heart to anyone who will listen to her feelings of pain, shame and bitterness.  At times as she sings she gives added delivery simply by pounding her bare foot to the floor in rhythm, emphasizing the pain in her soul.

The final scene unfolds as Lucrece summons Collatine and her father home to her side and after revealing the name of the man who has defiled her she is unable to overcome her intense feeling of shame and with a knife, takes her own life.As Camille depicts this final act she delivers her lines with eyes glistening until the tears run down her face in an end scene as powerful as any you are likely to witness.

With the rest of the stage in darkness, a shaft of brilliant light illuminates the white shoes at the front of the stage and a standing ovation closes the night on a breathtaking performance from a uniquely talented artist.

http://www.myspace.com/camilleosullivan
http://www.camilleosullivan.com/home.html

Review and photo by Shay Rowan