My festival treat to myself, I caught Camille O’Sullivan performing on her brief six day stand at the Fringe singing the songs of Jaques Brel, known for his masterful ability to capture the human condition.
The stage in the town hall venue is waiting under strings of coloured lightbulbs, set with the piano, drum kit and other instruments that will be used during tonights performance – not least of which is a geometrically constructed pigs head mask, that comes into use with the super satirical number ‘The Middle Class’.
Tiny Camille enters from behind us, in a brooding dark cape and large hat, making contact with the audience as she climbs to the stage, starting her set for the first time with an emotive acapella version of ‘Marieke’ that fuses us into the rapt attention that will accompany her for the entire 90 minute show.
Her loose tousled hair reflects wildness of passion underneath the top quality vocal control. Camille has an incredible theatricality to her expressive pipes, extending notes to pull out the underlying affecting strains with a supreme awareness of the impact of every crack or growl or whisper.
Camille completely owns all the material, and her arrangements of the Brel classics incorporate original French and Flemish lyrics around the English translations. If Brel is ‘the finest poet of storytelling, and goes into all the hearts of human storytelling‘, then she is the finest conduit, manipulating our emotional states between numbers as a if a shiny ball in the palm of her hand.
Humble and sweet between the vigorous songs, Camille improvises well and humourously, introducing us to Brel via her own personal connections to the Belgian artist. She seems to have a frailty whilst chatting to us that make an interesting and beautiful contrast to the confidence of her sung performance.
She is a talented and natural actor – it’s not all in the voice – and, if the visuals are a little under considered compared to the sophistication of musicianship and vocal storytelling, it only allows us to appreciate the intricacies of her sung communication.
Well aware of her audience and responding to keep us all in, Camille leads us through humour, poignancy, anger and despair. She is a magnificent artist of song, as Brel was, and their pairing is a heavenly marriage of the infernal in human nature.
Camille O’Sullivan – Brel, presented by Camille O’Sullivan. The Queen’s Hall, 85-89 Clerk Street, Edinburgh EH8 9JG. £17.50. 22:30 11-16 August.