This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com
The tragedy of Lucrece is mentioned by William Shakespeare in several of his plays, but his narrative poem which recounts the full story is known to most of us only from the page. This bold and imaginative production by the Royal Shakespeare Company, which was first staged at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2011, brings the poem to vivid life. Part spoken and part sung, the poem is performed by the Irish singer and actor Camille O’Sullivan, accompanied on piano by Feargal Murray. Together, they have written the haunting music, which is in the rock ballad style, ranging from soothingly melodic when matching Shakespeare’s lyrical descriptions of Lucrece’s beauty, to loud and discordant in harrowing scenes of violence and anger. O’Sullivan’s clear and powerful voice do full justice to both the words and the music throughout. O’Sullivan’s style as a concert performer is always intensely dramatic, but here, not content to just stand in front of a microphone, she deploys her considerable acting skills, playing at first the abuser, Tarquin, and then the victim. She begins wearing a full-length black coat and, with her hair pinned back tightly, she has the severe appearance of a prison warder. Once the foul deed has been committed, she discards the coat and becomes Lucrece. Wearing just a pure white night dress, her hair now dishevelled and falling forward, she writhes on her bed in pain and disgust. Lily Arnold’s simple designs represent a grand, unfurnished room, with large windows at the back and littered with manuscripts piled high. The production is marked throughout by exceptionally effective lighting by Vince Herbert. A square block of light represents Lucrece’s bedroom and, inside it, a smaller white square is her bed. At the end of the performance, a thin shaft of light across the stage links a heavy pair of men’s black boots at one end to a pair of white ladies’ slippers at the other, leaving us with an indelible summarising image. This 80 minute interpretation of Shakespeare’s work is a unique and memorable fusion of of poetry, drama and music. It is also a personal triumph for the extraordinary Camille O’Sullivan, providing a showcase for the full range of her talents.
Performance date: 9 July 2014