Over the past few years Irish singer Camille O’Sullivan has become part of the texture of the Edinburgh fringe, like rain-slick cobbles and slate skies; a fixture of the city during festival-time.
This year she is performing with a smaller band than she has in the past, a trio composed of piano, drums and guitar; she is also making her debut in the Pleasance after playing the Assembly Rooms in previous years. This new show is called Feel – in a nod perhaps to Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt which she performs during her set – and her voice, as ever, is gloriously emotive, sometimes scratchy and cracking, a thing of fragility, sometimes a raw roar, a sound sliding up from the gut.
The stage is strewn with scarlet fairy-lights; a dolls house sits on one side of the set and a series of vintage dresses have been turned into hanging lanterns. Over the PA system, the voices of fairy-tale witches, from Snow White and The Wizard of Oz, babble and cackle amid the music.
She emerges cloaked and cowled in crimson, Scottish Widows-style, a vengeful Red Riding Hood with a trace of Don’t Look Now in her DNA. Beneath the hood is a Louise Brooks bob, jet black and severe; beneath the cape, a black lace dress and scarlet boots. She peels away her costume, stripping back layers, exposing more and more of herself in the process. Her set opens with a version of Arcade Fire’s Wake Up, a song that creeps up on its audience, before washing over them like an epic, all consuming wave.
Nick Cave is her clear hero and she performs two of his songs, Are You The One? and The Ship Song, the last of which becomes astonishingly evocative and intense, a song in which one gets lost. Her influences are also evident in some of her other selections: Tom Waits’ The Briar and The Rose and the side-show stomp of The Crack of Doom by the Tiger Lilies. She revisits old favourites like Dylan’s Simple Twist of Fate and Sugar in My Bowl and turns Jacques Brel’s piquant Amsterdam into a piece of beauty and richness.
In this almost too-large venue, she manages to make individual connections with many of the audience, stepping away from the microphone, addressing the crowd without amplification; in the middle of the set there’s even a Dadaist interval in which she plays with masks, makes cat sounds and unleashes the little girl within – who turns out to be Linda Blair in the early stages of possession. This exercise in artistic exorcism is a little indulgent – the music stands up well enough alone – but she emerges barefoot and wigless from her chrysalis and performs with even more intimacy and emotive force. She finishes with Radiohead’s Motion Picture Soundtrack and draws out every smoky, red-wine-and-tear-flecked line.