Review :: Camille O’Sullivan ‘Changeling’ (Sydney Festival)
January 12th 2015
Camille O’Sullivan is charming, moving, and just a little bit mad.
Her dusty voice is at times as smooth as Etta James, yet has a raspy Janis Joplin edge to it. Camille O’Sullivan brings a perfect kind of heartache to the songs she sings. This year, on stage for her ‘Changeling‘ show, O’Sullivan is singing covers of old songs, songs that she says “are like old friends of sorts”, because “they’ve each taught me something at one time or another over the years”.
Her voice singing Nick Cave’s god-fearing ballads seems at once almost childlike and yet nostalgic, and brings goosebumps to my arms. The music of Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash and country folk singer Gillian Welch also feature throughout the night. As a performer she seems drawn to the dark, romantic, drama of life.
Last time she was in Sydney for the Festival, O’Sullivan brought Shakespeare to the stage in an epic reworking of The Rape of Lucrece – and it seems her ability as an actress shines through when she is singing, too.
Her acoustic rendition of ‘Look Mummy, No Hands’ by Fascinating Aïda is a heartbreaking piece of storytelling. Her more mad-cap energetic romp through Tom Waits’ ‘God’s Away on Business’ seems to allow her to release some of her pent up energy and the more absurd, playful sides of her character.
Drawing from her French ancestry and memories of her mother’s record collection, Jacques Brel’s ‘Amsterdam’ is undoubtedly the highlight of the night. O’Sullivan can draw out the lyrics and deliver them so passionately, so eloquently, that the images of fat drunken sailors, loose women and the smell of rotting fish seem to come alive, dripping down the audience.
On stage, she purrs and jumps around, drinks and then spills red wine, changes shoes, changes clothes, falls and laughs, all in full view.
O’Sullivan is immensely endearing, challenging and impressive all at the same time. She has the audience in her palm.
By the end of the show we’re “meow”-ing right back at her, and singing along in whispers – “come sail your ships around me” – as she conducts the final lines of Nick Cave’s ‘Ship Song’ under the disco ball.
Behind her on stage, expertly helping her twist these well known songs into something of her own, are Sydney’s Charlie Meadows (guitar), Hamish Stuart (drums) and Ireland’s Feargal Murray (keyboard and trumpet).
Camille O’Sullivan is playing at the Famous Spiegeltent for Sydney Festival, each night at 8pm until the 18th January.