Saturday, 19 October 2013

THEATRE REVIEW: The Rape Of Lucrece

A spectacular solo acting showcase lights up the Waterside Theatre stage in Derry-Londonderry

William Shakespeare's The Rape of Lucrece, brought to the City of Culture 2013 by the Royal Shakespeare Company after a successful public and critical reception in Edinburgh, Dublin and beyond, is a textbook example of how theatre literally is performance.

It's arguably even better as an illustration of how a little time and contemplation can put all things, particularly works of art, in their proper place. A tragic, two-hour Elizabethan English poem about death, rape and violence does not feel like instantly appealing source material for any modern stage. The wordiness can seem excessive, the scenario off-putting. But on reflection, director Elizabeth Freestone's production is more than simply words. It's a distinctive collage of music, motion and monologues highlighted by a sparkling central performance from actress and singer Camille O’Sullivan.

Either side of the seventy-five minute, one act play, O'Sullivan is bubbly and bouncy, fully acknowledging the presence and efforts of Derry-born co-collaborator Feargal Murray on piano and the appreciation of her audience. Within the seventy-five minutes, O’Sullivan's concentration is pure and absolute as she projects a whole gamut of emotions through three "costumes", two speaking voices, one singing voice and a countless range of expressions.

The Rape Of Lucrece draws on the Roman legend of Lucretia, whose rape and subsequent suicide led to revolt and laid the foundations for the Roman Republic in the sixth century BC. The Roman names are abbreviated in the poem, with Lucretia becoming Lucrece and her husband Tarquinius, son of the King Of Rome, becoming Tarquin. And in an innovative move, both are played by O'Sullivan.

Initially, O'Sullivan is cold and deceptively reserved, like you would expect rape perpetrator Tarquin to be. The actress, dressed in a long black coat and with her hair tied back, strongly enunciates in a sometimes forceful, sometimes raspy voice which ensures that the texture of the language and nuance of her performance gently enrich our senses.

In another innovative move, large parts of the play are sung, through compositions that echo Ennio Morricone, Bob Dylan, the gothic vulnerability of Shakespears Sister (coincidence?) and even ABBA. With a singing voice worthy of Etta James, O'Sullivan confidently strides around the stage like a dominant giantess, an Irish Marion Cotillard. She inhabits both her characters' souls and ours.

Particularly arresting is O'Sullivan's depiction of Lucrece's vulnerability. When she removes her coat and lets her hair down in a manner echoing Scarlett Johansson in Girl With A Pearl Earring and lies down on the stage floor in a white dress, her theatrical nakedness is there for all to see. As Lucrece, her tears are real and her passionate physical presence is extremely heartfelt. Like a rock concert, but without all the frivolity and superficiality, she hits you like a thunderbolt and never lets go of your attention.

The final third of the play sees O'Sullivan depict the consequences of Tarquin's immorality to us. Contemplation, regret, sorrowful singing and mournful monologuing imbue the actress's characterizations in a haunting finale worthy of everything that has come before. A piece of classical art has been given a new lease of life by both the RSC and a remarkably talented actress - and everyone in the Waterside Theatre knows it.

The Rape Of Lucrece runs at Derry-Londonderry's Waterside Theatre until October 20. For more information, click here.