Theatre review: The Rape of Lucrece, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

CAMILLE O’Sullivan made the leap from Fringe performer to star of the Edinburgh International Festival last night, with the opening of her one-woman performance of Shakespeare’s epic poem The Rape Of Lucrece. And what a leap. *****

The Rape of Lucrece

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay Street

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Star rating: * * * * *

Mesmerising, visceral and glorious, O’Sullivan prowled a stage dressed only by sheaves of paper and framed mottled mirrors.

Produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company, the piece – half spoken, half sung – is based on the Bard’s 1594 work, which tells the story of Lucrece, whose rape by the king’s son – and resulting suicide – were the direct cause of the revolution that led to the establishment of the Roman Republic.

The Irish-French singer brings her signature intensity to the role, living the text while relishing the sung sections, her husky delivery colouring the emotion further.

Accompanied only by Feargal Murray on piano, the tale of lust and politics comes to life as O’Sullivan deftly flits between three roles – narrator, victim and attacker.

As Lucrece, her natural fragility during performance is heightened. As Tarquin, the rapist, she is cold and demanding. Her narrator cleanly breaks the spell she creates for each.

Elizabeth Freestone wisely directs sparingly. Lines are allowed to drop away, words left half whispered, but then this is no traditional rendition of Shakespeare, no dry intellectual poetry reading. This is Camille O’Sullivan’s very personal take on the Bard and, judging by the standing ovation that greets her 75 minutes later, that’s exactly what the audience has come to see.

Through her unique delivery, O’Sullivan becomes the story she narrates. Whether spitting musical accusations or drawing the eye in with a tilt of the head or a simple look, this is the performance of an exquisite storyteller currently at the top of her game.

• Until Sunday