Irish chanteuse Camille O’Sullivan returns to her spiritual roots, singing in a traditional circus Spiegeltent. As an original performer in La Clique, the London Wonderground stage is second nature to O’Sullivan, and this environment works for her. The stage is bedecked in fairy lights, curling around all number of curiosities such as a caged mechanical bird, a plastic horse's head and the bunny lamp that features on the cover of her new album, Changeling. A hazing machine constantly keeps the room atmospherically misty. Above the stage internally-illuminated dresses hang as if Mary Poppins had only just vacated them. It evokes the hedonistic Kit Kat Club from Cabaret back when they really knew how to throw a party. As the audience is seated, Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony plays on loop with Debussy’s Clair de Lune. Also underneath this there are children’s voices; an ice cream van; a scratchy gramophone. It starts to make sense when O’Sullivan appears on stage dressed like a sorceress in full-length red cape and opens the show with the haunting Arcade Fire song, Wake Up. It feels so understated, but yet an incredibly powerful start.
O’Sullivan plays with her props as much as she plays with the audience. She’ll have a private joke with a random stranger. She’ll put a donkey mask on the back of her head for no apparent reason. A small glitterball hanging above the keyboards becomes her personal Swingball. It’s all part of the quirkiness of the set.
O’Sullivan sings a mix of Jacques Brel, Nick Cave and tonight even Nina Simone. But to call her a singer is like calling Leonardo da Vinci a decorator. There’s something about the way she inhabits songs with her raw, breathy and sometimes half-whispered voice that makes her irresistible. Brel’s ‘Amsterdam’ – sung a cappella – and Cave’s ‘Ship Song’ seem like they were written for her, rendering the originals poor imitations.
Her sexuality slips through the audience like the biblical serpent tempting us to indulge. A beguiling Celtic siren whose theatricality transforms the songs she sings, and a rapport with the audience which makes you believe there are only a handful of us in the room. A night out with O’Sullivan isn’t a concert, it’s an emotion.
The London Wonderground festival on the Southbank sees Camille O’Sullivan bring no less than five of her shows to the capital, so plenty of opportunities to catch this phenomenal performer.