Edinburgh Festival 2012: The Rape of Lucrece, Royal Lyceum, review
Camille O’Sullivan and Feargal Murray’s performance, in song, of Shakespeare’s great poem The Rape of Lucrece is distinct and emotionally powerful, writes Mark Brown.
Michael Boyd’s 10-year leadership of the Royal Shakespeare Company (which comes to an end this autumn) has often been characterised by a refreshing openness to original reinterpretations of the Bard’s works. Seldom can it have spawned one so distinct, and so accomplished, as this rendering of the great poem The Rape of Lucrece, performed in song and music by Camille O’Sullivan and Feargal Murray.
Adapted for the stage by O’Sullivan, Murray and its director Elizabeth Freestone, the piece tells the ancient Roman story of Lucretia, the chaste wife of the general Collatinus, who was raped at knife point by Sextus Tarquinius, a jealous junior officer.
The choice of O’Sullivan to tell this most anguished and timeless of tragic stories, both in song and in speech, is an inspired one. While this is not an operatic performance (O’Sullivan’s extraordinary singing voice is of a different nature to that), she has interpretive skills which are equal to the finest opera performers. Equally confident in expressive narration as in singing, she captivates increasingly as she takes us ever deeper into Shakespeare’s dark and terrible tale.
Murray’s piano music (which was co-written with O’Sullivan) is similarly, and agonisingly, responsive to both the poem and O’Sullivan’s performance. As the narrative unfolds, musical motifs emerge, and there is even the repetition of a song (it might be called, simply, Lucretia’s Song) which gives gorgeous and painful expression to Lucretia’s tragedy.
It is in the nature of the piece that O’Sullivan’s role is at a remove from the characters; she interprets their thoughts and feelings, but she does not play them as might an actor in a play. This provides Freestone with a difficult choice at the crucial moment of the rape itself. Does she maintain O’Sullivan’s narrative distance, or ask her to, in some way, enact the crime?
That she decided upon the latter seems, to me, to have been a mistake. Charismatic and compelling though O’Sullivan is, it is too much at odds with the form of the production to expect her to carry off a physical representation of Tarquinius’s sexual violence, and Lucretia’s physical and emotional agony.
It is a forgivable error, however, in the context of a show which is beautifully and subtly set and lit, and in which O’Sullivan sings and speaks Shakespeare’s poem with such emotional power.
Until August 26. Tickets: 0131 473 2000
This review was originally published in the Daily Telegraph on August 24, 2012
© Mark Brown