Camille O’Sullivan: Making Cabaret Sexy

Camille O’Sullivan’s performance style comes as a bit of a shock to the uninitiated. This remarkably intense young woman rolls on the floor, roars like a lioness at her audience, collapses with her head in her hands, kicks her shoes off and hugs the members of her band in turn.

The sheer raw emotion in her voice borders on scary. But she is wonderfully addictive, and as she belts out songs from a huge range of genres the audience sits, spellbound and utterly captivated.

The Roundhouse in Camden is a cracking setting for this kind of a gig, laid out as it is like a combination of a circus and Moulin Rouge. It gives Camille many opportunities to slink her way through the audience seated at tables in the centre, chatting with them, draping herself across them and, on one occasion, drinking their wine.

Her singing voice is deep and strong and charged with passion. She doesn’t need to be one of the world’s most perfect vocalists, because she discovered a long time ago that acting was just as important as singing in a performance context. Thus when she is singing about pain, love and distress, you can see it etched deeply on her face, going so far as to have mascara-streaked tear tracks down her cheeks. And it’s not just her, either; a glance around the place will show her audience weeping away with her. It’s an incredible experience of empathy, watching Camille, and it is she who makes that possible.

So her music type? Not easy to say, really. We got several Nick Cave numbers, including People Ain’t No Good, Little Water Song and The Ship Song, both of which had me trying desperately not to burst out sobbing. We got some David Bowie, which is apparently something of a speciality for Camille – her rendition of Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide might just have been (and I’m wincing in anticipation of the reaction) better than the original. But she also does some loud, proud and downright fun songs, including Kirsty McColl’s In These Shoes and Nina Simone’s Sugar in My Bowl. And of course there was some classic Jacques Brel in there, for whom, she admits at the beginning of the show, she has an obsession. But it’s certainly true that despite the fact that she does all covers, she still makes them very much her own.

There are few people who own a stage the way Camille O’Sullivan does. The phrase ‘can’t keep your eyes off her’ is not unreasonable here. She is so obviously as comfortable with all those people staring at her as she would be among friends, and the most fascinating thing about her is the way that being ballsy is clearly more important to her than being conventionally sexy. She stamps her way through songs, jerking her head from side to side, shouting along with the beat. Quite a refreshing change from all the little manufactured sirens who swish their hips, stick their chests out and pout for the audience like dolls. Camille is unique, and clearly proud to be that way.

Camille is performing with La Clique until the end of January

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1 Response

  1. Alice

    Great article! Camille sounds like an absolute pussycat – I’d love to go and see her (once I, er, scrape some cash together).

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