Returning to her big top roots, Camille O’Sullivan is set to explore a rollercoaster of emotions and – hopefully – create a bit of madness.
In a former life, Camille O’Sullivan was an architect, so designing, creating and building is in her blood. It’s just that now, as an acclaimed singer and performer, she creates and builds characters based on other musicians’ words, inhabiting the lyrics with a quiet intensity, or a wild abandon, or a coquettish wit, before moving on to the next song.
“I like a rollercoaster of different emotions which allows me to become different characters,” she says. “Some people feel they don’t know which person I am and they say my performance is more bonkers than they thought it was going to be. I like the whole notion of a performer showing that there’s a slight crack in them, that something is going to unravel.”
For the record, O’Sullivan in conversation is friendly, down-to-earth and garrulous, far from the vocal dervish on stage who can be so mercurial that even her band are not sure of her next move. “Live performance is the one place you can actually take people by surprise – you give them a nice enigmatic poster, then you bring them in and you create a bit of madness,” she says with relish.
O’Sullivan first came to the attention of Fringe audiences as a star turn in La Clique, the immersive cabaret and variety show that took the festival by storm from its very first outing, and sealed our love of those exotic canvas palaces known as Spiegeltents.
“When I first came in 2004, the comedians were the new rock stars and people weren’t really doing those types of theatrical shows, and then two or three years later people started bringing in more cabaret shows on the back of La Clique.” O’Sullivan doesn’t necessarily think of herself as a cabaret artist, but agrees, “the Edinburgh Festival is helping people get into that world.”
Over the past decade, O’Sullivan has taken her ever-mutating show into more conventional concert environments, including the Fringe’s more ornate rooms and all the way to the International Festival, where she performed Shakespeare’s The Rape Of Lucrece in 2012. But she is still a lover of a Spiegeltent and returns to her big top roots this year, performing as part of the Underbelly’s Circus Hub programme. Roll up, roll up…
“What I love about the tents is you can treat everything like the stage because it’s in the round,” she says. “I don’t particularly like to be boxed in. I’ve been saying ‘can we get a swing in there, maybe I can go into the middle of the room?’ So I’ll be up to no good, hopefully!”
O’Sullivan is still developing her new show, The Carny Dream, but there is already talk of fairytales, animal masks, wooden playhouses, the music of Nick Cave and Jacques Brel with which she is most associated, newer artists such as Arcade Fire, PJ Harvey and Edinburgh’s Beta Band – and the late, great David Bowie.
“I’m a bit lost sometimes in things I do and shows are a way of guiding me,” says O’Sullivan. “I choose songs because they mean something to me where I’m at in my life, and someone who really inspired me to be a singer is gone now. I was absolutely distraught, I thought I was going to marry the man when I was a teenager.” Her other lingering love affair is with the Fringe itself. “It’s the marker for me as a performer. Because it’s full of performers, it’s very inspirational, more for the art and less for the money. I love it and I get scared of it at the same time, which means it’s a good place to return to.”
Words: Fiona Shepherd
Picture: Kip Carroll
Camille O’Sullivan: The Carny Dream, Underbelly’s Circus Hub on the Meadows, 4-22 August (not 10, 15), 8.30pm