Camille O’Sullivan is gravelly, gritty and full of angst. She growls through a gorgeous set of songs by songwriters that inspire her – Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen top the list. It starts like a funeral wake, O’Sullivan clad in a velvet robe embossed with Bowie and Prince. But her voice reminds us not to mourn; instead we revel in the darkness she calls forth and rise up in solidarity and remembrance. Where Are We Now? is a set that purposefully lacks direction, the antithesis to a manufactured sound bombarding us in everyday life. The soul in this show is dark, but it’s oh so addictive.
O’Sullivan has a fusion of Amy Winehouse, Courtney Love and Annie Lennox about her – a personality that doesn’t try too hard or attempt to conform. She chats to us in a haphazard manner between sets, emotional and invested but far less superficial; these lines are not naturally polished around the edges, they’re worn and experienced. The title is a resigned comment, a query for us all to reflect on what the world has come to with such devastation looming over us all. O’Sullivan is unmissable when she talks, but something so much more when she sings.
The shadows are brought forth by O’Sullivan’s voice – an expertly tuned instrument that plays with bending notes, straying close to the tonal precipice within each melody knowing that it is supported by thick, purple, Romantic-style accompaniment. It might not be classic orchestral instrumentation but it is grounded in the principles of orchestration, a sumptuous velvet that envelopes both stage and audience alike. Where Are We Now? is the kind of show that mimics and complements a thick red wine, or a whisky in a dingy bar – it has a heady, hazy quality that dulls the senses and allows you to sink into its murky depths.
But O’Sullivan can strip back the vocal too – from full-bodied and rich to breathy, almost waif-like in its innocence. Suddenly the production takes on a different tone, incandescent and controlled. It’s light and shade, each aspect emphasising the beauty and merits in the other. O’Sullivan may appear at times to lose her grip, but we are so willingly trapped in her snare that she can take such liberties without fear of losing our rapt attention. This is a performance with true power, one that doesn’t need to exert its authority – maybe Trump could learn a few things…
The final piece in O’Sullivan’s trinity of inspirations is Jacques Brel. Her rendition of Marieke, dedicated to her French mother, is an acting masterclass. A restrained and demure performance plays with pace and technique – O’Sullivan’s effortless integration of sprechgesang adds pathos to otherwise hidden portions of the song. She can flip the mood on a knife edge, pierce us in the heart with it and we still applaud her.
Where Are We Now? may comment on the dire state of the world, but it does not intend us to mourn. Instead O’Sullivan expels her anguish and anger onto the stage and into the songs, a performance of lunacy and reality existing in a perfectly balanced symbiosis.
Where Are We Now? plays Underbelly Circus Hub as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 until 26 August 2017. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the website.