Camille O’Sullivan

The Famous Spiegeltent, January 8

Camille res
Photo: Prudence Upton.

“This is live,” she tells us. “Anything can happen.” Or, “It’s my show, so I can do what I want.” It does and she does in Camille O’Sullivan’s new show, The Changeling. Four hanging frocks decorate the stage. It could have been 40 to truly represent the Irish chanteuse’s many facets.

Being drawn to humanity’s darker side seems to be a vocation for O’Sullivan. Songs by Nick Cave, Tom Waits and Jacques Brel provided the bones of a show she fleshed out with material by tunesmiths as diverse and Kirsty MacColl, Bob Dylan, Declan O’Rourke, David Bowie and Leonard Cohen. Upon them all she could unleash not just her spearing voice, but her quicksilver gifts as an actress.

Her last appearance for Sydney Festival, of course, was delivering an unforgettable and theatrically-charged Royal Shakespeare Company presentation of The Rape of Lucrece. The Changeling let her twist those skills together in the most unpredictable show she has brought here. And as she twisted the many facets revealed themselves: desolate O’Sullivan, dangerous O’Sullivan, sensual O’Sullivan, funny, funnier and completely anarchic O’Sullivan.

Her madcap self – delightfully daft and zany – was allowed out to play on Tom Waits’ All The World Is Green and God’s Away On Business. But the ultimate triumph was an a cappella version of Brel’s Amsterdam that was so raw that it seemed to bleed from the stage; so raw that you could almost smell it.

Building the songs to towering climaxes or hiding behind her husky voice were Feargal Murray (keyboards, trumpet), Charlie Meadows (guitar) and Hamish Stuart (drums). They were exceptional, and the absence of a bass made the sound starker; less like a straight rock band.

The blight was the extraneous noises flooding through the Spiegeltent’s walls. That an overly loud outdoor act was gatecrashing a show of this calibre was a crass error of someone’s judgement. A much happier intrusion was the bells of St Mary’s ringing during Cave’s God Is In the House.

Until January 18.