Life really is a cabaret for sultry torch song diva, Camille O’Sullivan. Burlesque cabaret is back- and the Irish born singer of French parentage is riding high on it’s wave- a wave about to hit our summery Speigeltent shores. According to the chanteuse who was a hit at this year’s Edinburgh Speigeltent and hasn’t looked back since -cabaret is as relevant as it was 70 years ago in scandalous Weimar Germany.
“It is the ageless narrative in the songs themselves - it makes people question the life they lead now, whether that is their intimate life or the life of a world that surrounds them”, she philosophises. There is no doubt that the immediacy of cabaret helps people to help themselves feel. It is a musical genre visited by any artist worth their salt who understands that cabaret is an incendiary conduit for raw human emotion. An audience can see the sweat on an artist's brow and they the performer can almost touch the whites of your teary, smiling eyes. “ I like to be as truthful as possible, I choose songs that mean something to me so an audience will believe that I mean it- even though I didn't write the song.”
Melbourne Speigeltent aficionados will have an opportunity this month to experience the invincible Ms O’Sullivan. Her repertoire is a who’s who of torchsong history from Brecht, Brel, Weil, Cohen, Cave to Waits all deeply inflected with the darkness and lightness of her being, and sung in widescope English, French and German. “My personal favourite songs from the Melbourne show are Jacque Brel's 'Marieke' and Nick Cave's God is in the house”, she reveals. Two love songs that speak tellingly of the divine mood she weaves.
These are oppressive times, much like Weimar Germany was when Cabaret evolved as a way for taking the piss out of Nazi rule and helped people to make sense of human loss, anguish, vilification and unnecessary chaos. Invariably at the heart of every great Cabaret song is the reminder that you are not alone - “there is always a lighter side of life” too. “ I have a French mother who brought me up on this kind of 1930’s music. I had lived in Berlin hanging out in the Kabaret clubs there, so I suppose I was always drawn to it “, she says revealing her passion for a politically charged cabaret. Ireland has added quite a different slant. “My Irish background inspires me too- due to a great love of old narrative ballads, jolly sing-a-longs and the intimacy of the venues you perform in”.
Spotted this year in Edinburgh’s burlesque heaven, La Clique, by actor Ewan Bremner (AKA “spud” of Trainspotting fame) O’Sullivan found herself cast in the new Stephen Frears feature Mrs. Henderson Presents. “I have to pinch myself every so often” she quips. The diva refers to acting alongside the formidable Dame Judy Dench, Bob Hoskin and Will Young in a film based on the real-life nude scandals surrounding Soho’s historic Windmill Theatre- that outraged London society in the 1930s.
“The Windmill became a famous revue venue and the first to have a nude “tableaux” accepted by Lord Chamberlain- only if the girls never moved a muscle! I am not one of the nude girls but my character Jane is one of the main singing, dancing performers”, she explains. “In a way it is art imitating life as I my own life is very similar to Jane’s- I too lead a similar cabaret life- it is likely I would have been performing in such a venue had I lived in that era”, intuits the chanteuse.
” Stephen liked the idea that I kept my character Irish and as close to my own personality as possible. She is an exuberant fun girl, quirky, determined and willing to try absolutely anything bar nudity. Much like myself she loves creating different characters for each song”
It is no surprise that the sexy savvy torch song diva has been cast in the new Frear’s take on Brit society scandals, as Melbourne audiences are about to feel and find out - scandalous also makes for great, great cabaret.