The rape of Lucrece
Camille O’Sullivan gives the wronged Lucrece a powerful voice as Shakespeare’s text is condensed into 12 songs
Camille O’Sullivan: gives a hypnotic performance
The Rape of Lucrece
Shakespeare’s epic narrative poem is reinvented for a contemporary audience in this touring production from the Royal Shakespeare Company.
The poem was written around the same time as Titus Andronicus and Romeo and Juliet, and it continues Shakespeare’s fascination with Roman history and the potential violence that attends the greatest love stories.
The Rape of Lucrece is a foundational tale, and tells the story of Lucrece, the wife of a Roman officer who is renowned for her chastity and who is brutally raped by the son of the king, Tarquin. Unable to bear the shame, Lucrece kills herself, and Tarquin is banished. The empire collapses and the Roman republic is ushered into being.
Shakespeare’s text, adapted for the stage by singer Camille O’Sullivan and pianist Feargal Murray, is condensed into 12 songs that embrace the dark tragedy through minor piano chords and gravelly choral pleas.
Where the specifics of Shakespeare’s verse eludes the listener, O’Sullivan creates a clear emotional narrative in her hypnotic performance, which veers between clamorous lust and helpless anguish.
The verbosity of Shakespeare’s text is matched by the simplicity of Elizabeth Freestone’s staging. Lucrece and Tarquin are given a symbolic presence for the audience by two pairs of empty shoes – white slippers that evoke Lucrece’s purity and heavy military boots that signify Tarquin’s overpowering soldierly strength.
O’Sullivan gives the characters a physical presence on stage, however, gradually shedding Tarquin’s dominant voice and embracing Lucrece’s tragic helplessness.
Her subtle choreography ensures the performance never becomes static, though her movement comes from an internal place rather than external stimulus.
The rape scene is particularly effectively staged, in a window of light that evokes an entire world. Indeed, Lily Arnold’s austerely beautiful set richly contributes to the portrayal of Shakespeare’s sensuous and horrific world, in which women are merely objects for exploitation. What initially appears one-dimensional is endlessly reinvented by Arnold’s lighting design. Bare floorboards become portals to different locations, while six abstract canvases in different sizes offer a glimpse of lush gold landscapes and scorched brown plains.It remains deeply moving both for those with classical interests and contemporary musical tastes. Until Saturday