The Rape of Lucrece, EIF 2012, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Royal Shakespeare Company
Elizabeth Freestone, Feargal Murray & Camille O'Sullivan (adapted William Shakespeare), Feargal Murray & Camille O'Sullivan (composers), Elizabeth Freestone (director), Lily Arnold (designer), Vince Herbert (lighting), Ed Borgnis (sound)
Camille O'Sullivan (performer), Feargal Murray (piano)
Running time

Camille O’Sullivan is a beguiling, unassuming tour de force. Her unique voice, presence and passion has earned her the reputation of ‘Queen of the Fringe’, mesmerising audiences here in Edinburgh for the last six years with her interpretations of songs by Brel, Cave, Bowie and Dylan.

She has performed to sell-out audiences from the Royal Albert Hall to the Sydney Opera House and at this year’s Fringe, there were queues round the block waiting to see her perform songs from her soon-to-be-released album, Changeling. The Rape of Lucrece represents her first performance at the Edinburgh International Festival and is the first time that any artist has headlined at both the Fringe and International Festivals.

The Rape of Lucrece is Shakespeare’s epic poem describing how Tarquin, the son of the Roman king, fuelled by Collatinus’ boasting of his pure and chaste wife and driven by an envious, burning lust, creeps into her bedchamber in the middle of the night and brutally rapes her. This was a momentous event in Roman history, as her subsequent suicide led to the revolution that overthrew the monarchy and established the Roman republic. 

Barefoot and wearing a floor-length black dress-coat, Camille placed a pair of white shoes down-stage and a pair of large, black soldier boots up-stage, before gratefully thanking everyone for coming. As Camille, she then set the scene, filling in some background of Shakespeare’s story, before asking why it was that Collatinus would speak so publically of that which should be private. Poignantly, Lucrece was thus introduced as one who had already been betrayed before the nightmare unfolded.

An edited version of the full poem was then enacted, part-spoken and part-sung, one segueing seamlessly into the other. Brutish and remorseless as Tarquin, serene and vulnerable as Lucrece, part actor, part storyteller, Camille masterfully embodied the horror and anguish that is the soul of this piece. Her drawn out, aching wail of ‘despair’ will haunt me for some time: I was willing her to stop, while compelled to listen.

There are many performances that you ‘like’ but don’t ‘love’, but this is the first performance that, paradoxically, I loved but didn’t like. It is uncomfortable viewing, painful in its perfection and beauty. The music, from Feargal Murray on the piano, was haunting; the set and the costumes both congruous and spare; the lighting lent yet another dimension, a further medium through which this story was told.

Given all this, I am at a loss to explain why I felt disengaged, overawed but unmoved by this powerful spectacle. It is perhaps a bit of a ‘marmite’ production: there were a few people who left at various points during the performance; others were overheard murmuring, ‘it did go on a bit’, but far more than these combined rose to their feet in rapture as the final notes faded.

Show times: 22nd – 26th August, 9:00pm

Prices: £30, £24, £20, £16, £10