Camille O’Sullivan stands as both perpetrator and victim in Lucrece’s bloody chamber. She is a chameleon, able to shift from masculine to feminine with the turning of a cheek - hard granite eyes melting into innocent pools. Part spoken and part sung, her low vocal rhythms transform Shakespeare’s poem into an invocation - it is as though long dead spirits are singing.
Camille O'Sullivan in The Rape of Lucrece at the Lyceum, Edinburgh Photo: RSC/Ellie Kurttz
The Rape of Lucrece - originally told by Livy, then Ovid and here through an Elizabethan gaze - is a story of stolen female honour historically written by men to be read by men. Here it is resplendently told by a woman and the act of physical violation is suddenly very real.
On hearing of Lucrece’s famed chastity, Tarquin beseeches entry into her house and rapes her. To uphold her virtue she commits suicide.
As the vessel for this violent poetry the compelling O’Sullivan is an inspired choice. She speaks with a natural understanding of Shakespeare’s timbre, fluidly turning his verses into lyrics. Her singing makes each note a pin prick that lets the emotion seep out of this passionate text.
The haunting compositions, created with musical partner Feargal Murray, avoid monotony but are strangely dirge-like. Whether in the hardening of Tarquin’s resolve or Lucrece’s angry mourning, they are a lament.
Away from O’Sullivan things are more fudged. Elizabeth Freestone’s staging feels under-baked and the proscenium frame does little to bring this audience closer to a performer who is constantly reaching out. But though frustrating, neither dampens O’Sullivan’s luminosity or power.