Saturday, 2 February 2013

The Rape of Lucrece, Feb 1, 2013 *****

The Rape of Lucrece by William Shakespeare
Royal Shakespeare Company
Performed by Camille O’Sullivan
Adapted by Elizabeth Freestone, Feargal Murray and Camille O’Sullivan
Music composed by Feargal Murray and Camille O’Sullivan
Sumner Theatre, MTC, Jan 31 to Feb 10, 2013
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Review appeared online for Herald Sun on Monday Feb 4 and in print on Tues Feb 5.  KH
Camille O'Sullivan. Photo by Keith Pattison

The Rape of Lucrece is a thrilling, superbly crafted, theatrical jewel, not only because of Camille O’Sullivan’s compelling, impeccably wrought and poignant performance, but also because of its direction, songs, design, lighting and Shakespeare’s glimmering poetry.

With house lights still on, O’Sullivan, wearing a heavy, dark overcoat, strolls humbly onto the stage with her pianist, Feargal Murray, and chats to the audience, establishing the easy rapport of a cabaret performer.

This casual introduction bleeds almost imperceptibly into Shakespeare’s tragic, narrative poem as the lights dim and we embark on the inexorable path of the Ancient Roman tale of Lucrece, the virtuous wife of Collatine, a Roman aristocrat, and her violation by Tarquin, son of the Roman King.

O’Sullivan, an Irish cabaret performer, sings about half of the poem in a style influenced by torch songs, chants, laments and recitative and Murray’s restrained and evocative piano underscores most of the narrative.

The remarkable, unpretentious O’Sullivan evokes three characters: Narrator, Lucrece and Tarquin, through Shakespeare’s complex, lyrical language, delivering it in both song and dialogue, with splendid timing, subtle physicality and perfect comprehension of its layers of meaning.

The theatre is silent and breathless as O’Sullivan inhabits the mind of Tarquin, prowling the stage, creeping through dark corners as he conspires, justifies and manipulates his evil plan to rape Lucrece in her own home while her husband is abroad.

The tension mounts to breaking point with O‘Sullivan’s foot stamping and Murray’s pounding music, as the relentless, lustful Tarquin breaks into Lucrece’s private room to terrorise her with a knife and threaten her with rape – or death.

O’Sullivan peels off the heavy coat to reveal a white slip that defines Lucrece’s vulnerability and her lost virtue and amplifies her grief and shame as she lies whimpering, like a broken doll, in a pool of light.

Elizabeth Freestone’s direction is imaginative, understated and deceptively simple, while her smart and exhilarating adaptation of the text with O’Sullivan and Murray allows Shakespeare’s language to paint the landscape, characters and violence with metaphor and imagery.

Lily Arnold’s stark design, lit atmospherically by Vince Herbert, features piles of papers and huge, framed abstract paintings that seem to sear the walls with splashes of grim colour resembling flames or shadowy figures.

O’Sullivan’s breathtaking performance and Freestone’s spine-tingling production, allow Shakespeare’s poem, with its themes of beauty and virtue violated, to resonate with a 21st century audience that will hold its breath until the end.

By Kate Herbert

Directed by Elizabeth Freestone
Designed by Lily Arnold
Lighting by Vince Herbert
Sound by Ed Borgnis

Presented by Arts Projects Australia
With the support of Culture Ireland
And in association with the Sydney Festival and Melbourne Theatre Company

Camille O'Sullivan. Photo by Keith Pattison

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