Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Tales from the Fringe: Camille O'Sullivan

The poster for Camille O'Sullivan's 'Chameleon', Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2010. Image by Dora Petherbridge.

Camille O’Sullivan is always one of the more polished acts on the fringe. Often defying publications’ rigid five star ratings with special six star status reviews she’s an alluring prospect too. She’s the Irish-French cabaret singer with the gravelly voice, who seemingly explores the multi-facets of femininity or rather womanhood, as she emotionally unravels on stage with orchestrated costume changes and cheeky banter with the crowd. However she’s no flake. Never once do you get the impression that she’s losing her audience to introspective hysteria, rather one, especially as a woman is partly mesmerised by her candour and certainly swept along for the ride.

Last year’s performance ‘The Dark Angel’ encapsulated this sense of emotional exploration particularly well with its deceptively feminine backdrop of crochet rugs and sparkly frocks adorning the stage. It is as interesting then as it is ironic that Camille favours the songs of male singers: Nick Cave and David Bowie to name a couple. And all this perhaps sets her apart from other cabaret singers, for she refuses to sing quietly and simply look beautiful and the more feminine songs she sings neither pander to romantic notions nor lost loves. Indeed her version of ‘Look Mummy No Hands’ seemed to engage with the complex relationship between mothers and daughters in a spooky pool of light amongst a crowd, many of whom were tearful women.

This year’s show ‘Chameleon’ marked a change in setting (this time there was a fairy light lit swing, mini piano and neon bunny rabbit light). Perhaps the electric pull of blue light was a tell tale sign that Camille was taking a different approach to proceedings – the songs had changed, she’d added a rocky element to her set and she, adorned in cape and sparkly black trousers banged drums under flashing lights. Indeed this was Camille engaging with the music, darting around the stage giving gutsy whistles. Given last year’s emotionally charged fare all this was somewhat of a diversion. Still she’s not the ‘Chameleon’ for nothing.

In many respects this new show appears to engage with the more masculine aspects of the music she chooses to sing. There’s a new sense of danger as recordings of dialogue from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ are piped from a stereo over the live band. And under the glow of green light, Camille’s delicate facial expressions transformed her from something of an Absinthe fairy to the Wicked Witch. Camille the cabaret singer is evolving. Yet there were still hints of the dark angel - the on stage persona that rests on a volatile trajectory spanning sultry all woman singer to clowning around geek. At one point in her set as she makes her way over to the swing she accidentally trips over her bunny rabbit light, jokily uttering ‘Oh dear cruelty to animals!’ The Celtic humour and Gallic charm seem to both fuel and allow her to get away with the randomness.

Camille O’Sullivan shows are always a hot ticket at the fringe and well worth a look if you are heading to Edinburgh. I hear that no two nights are ever the same so each new audience is in for a unique experience every night. Indeed it is fascinating to watch a multi-layered performance by a woman who is not going through the motions with her material, for one senses she feels it deeply.

Camille on stage. Image by Dora Petherbridge

The set with the bunny rabbit light. Image by Dora Petherbridge

Random Chandelier. Image by Dora Petherbridge


  1. Thank you Ruth and Dora for transporting me, vicariously but nonetheless vividly, to the unique excitement and fascination of the Fringe via the eloquence of your words and images.

    (in Sydney)

  2. Dear Kathleen,

    It is a pleasure! I am thrilled that you enjoy the blog (the word's and Dora's images). The fringe is a unique thing, hopefully you can experience first hand some day. I'd recommend at least one or two fringe experiences in a lifetime.