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Camille O'Sullivan: Life is sometimes a cabaret

Aug 31, 2015 Theatre

This story first appeared in the September 2015 issue of Metro. Photo: James Baker

When Camille O’Sullivan performs, she’s out to inhabit other people’s songs so deeply that the listener forgets they were never hers to begin with. This is possible only with artists she considers timeless — Waits, Dylan, Cave, Brel — and every now and then, Taylor Swift.

“If a song touches the heart, it will speak across decades,” she says. “Some artists say it’s when you find God in a piece of music. I wouldn’t want to refer to God, but I would say spirit.”

O’Sullivan never formally trained as a performer; she was originally an architect, an award-winning one at that. Outside work, she’d perform the music she loved — the timeless kind — in local Dublin bars, but it wasn’t until she survived a major car accident that she felt compelled to take the hobby seriously.

She began with a show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where she was scouted to tour the world with the cabaret show La Clique. A decade later and she’s performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company, appeared in a film alongside Dame Judi Dench and had a six-week run in the West End.

While O’Sullivan is appearing at the Auckland International Cabaret Season, she resists being labelled a cabaret singer. It’s not all lipstick and fishnets. “I’m not a caricature, I like retro and I think Dita Von Teese dresses nicely, but if I want to be ugly on stage, with bare feet, messed-up hair and no make-up, then that’s totally fine.”

O’Sullivan likens the way she tackles music to an actor interpreting Shakespeare. “It’s an unravelling at high speed,” she says. “It starts off severe and beautiful, but next, I’m crawling on the ground and meowing. I wouldn’t go on stage if I couldn’t make the songs my own.”

See Camille O’Sullivan in her show Changeling at the Auckland International Cabaret Season, Town Hall, September 3-6,



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