Music review: Camille O'Sullivan: The Carny Dream

Inevitably, in her 12th year on the Fringe, there is a degree of familiarity to a Camille O'Sullivan performance.

Camille O'Sullivan
Camille O'Sullivan

Star rating: ****
Venue: Underbelly’s Circus Hub (Venue 360)

She likes to get hands-on with an audience and that audience knows there will be stellar vocals, dark glamour, cathartic interpretations, favourite songwriters and impish ad libs. This year, there are also unsettling paper animal heads and a gingerbread house on stage. O’Sullivan was an architect in a previous life so building a performance from the ground up comes naturally.

And even for those who have already heard her sing Tom Waits or Nick Cave innumerable times, every rendition is a true performance, utilising her athletic tonal range from a breathy whisper to a raspy scream. O’Sullivan can even imbue an Oasis song with dynamic interest.

She prowls around in iridescent cloaks and headgear, trying on outfits in the same way that she plays with her stage persona, and revives her La Clique classic Is That All There Is? while swinging from a trapeze. But The Carny Dream is more theatrical rock show than campy cabaret, with some epic guitar work on Dylan’s Simple Twist of Fate and cascading keyboards on Radiohead’s Motion Picture Soundtrack to complement her dramatic delivery.

The quieter reveries are frequently interrupted by banging tunes leaking in from elsewhere in the Circus Hub but don’t put O’Sullivan off her stride as she homes in on her “love letter to Bowie”, first with her a capella version of Jacques Brel’s Port of Amsterdam, also in the Bowie repertoire, then a burst of his brilliant swansong Blackstar before digging in to his world-weary 2013 comeback Where Are We Now?, a heroic All The Young Dudes and a barnstorming Five Years. On this raw testifying form, she is also forgiven for adding to the great surplus of Purple Rain covers since Prince’s untimely death earlier this year.

Until 22 August. Today, 8:30pm.


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