THEATRE REVIEW | Talking Point, Wilton’s Music Hall
★★★★ | Talking Point
What do you want from a diva? And please, don’t say precious, needy showboating, or reheating tired old douchebag showtunes way overdue for mercy killing! Isn’t life far too short for mediocrity, and as the very wonderful Iggy Pop says in the docudrama American Valhalla, ‘If you risk nothing, you gain nothing, no matter who you are’. Exactly – any performer petrified of pushing boundaries stays permanently locked in predictability. Naming no names, of course, but truly, what the f*ck do you have to lose in this life by being as raw and extreme as possible? The worst thing imaginable – death -hits us all, so anything less is pure bliss! Playing safe creatively is just the pure domain of grade-A assholes, not nuclear, passionate misfits!
And yes, don’t X-Factor wannabees and terminal underachievers everywhere constantly whinge about their ‘style’ – AKA generic idiocy – being ripped off by more charismatic artists they seethingly envy? But Christ, as Bob Dylan said decades ago, ‘open your eyes and ears – get born, even – and you’re influenced!’ Exactly – it’s not what you soak up, but what you do with it that counts! So, forget Simon Cowell’s adored, knackered human jukeboxes pumping out showtunes to bore punters stiff – they wish! Sadly, the only sliver of sexual (dis)interest at X-Factor shows is a complete absence of mass erections! But – with all the above concerns duly noted – let’s turn to Camille O’ Sullivan, that ferocious fireball of feral, genius-level charisma!
Her showcase, tonight – and until the 21st – is Wilton’s Music Hall, which, quite aptly and symbolically, is a perfect, Platonic metaphor for Camille herself; stark, raw, riotously functional, giving no concessions whatsoever to uber-bland notions of mass-consensus beauty, or Auto-tuned insipidness. Better yet, the theatre’s long, narrow, with a sumptuously arched, barrel-vaulted roof, simply ideal for killer acoustics!
Like Camille herself, the stage set evokes a spurious, brash, carnival glamour, all scarlet curtains and papier-mache, fake animal heads – donkey, pig and fox – topping dress stands hanging tonight’s purely decorative gowns. What, then, is a diva? A diva, primarily, is neither sex nor gender; it’s not his/her penis or pussy that lingers immortalised in passive or enraptured ears, but, rather, pure, scorching, disembodied passion and meticulously conjured emotions. Still, that note of stroppy audaciousness that’s absolutely crucial to Camille’s humour and delivery shrewdly shapes even her set design; there’s an illuminated, lemon-yellow electric bunny onstage by the drum kit, an abstruse reminder of the pumping beat of both music and the fecund percussion of frenzied, sexual fertility itself.
So, do yourselves a favour, and instantly dismiss the glib snottiness of Dua Lipa, tediously epitomised by her ‘IDGAF’ – ‘I Don’t Give A Fuck‘- track. Rather, instantly slam Camille in your veins, all liquid, napalm fury and supercharged, exotic desire! Okay, sadly -to date- she’s written no self-penned, genuinely anthemic bangers, but her raw mastery of reinterpreting definitive, art-rock songs for the ages is so astounding any aspiring covers queens should abdicate ASAP!
Fittingly, Camille’s introduced by the eerie tinkling of the classic, ‘Twilight Zone’ TV series, an immediate statement of intent to expect nothing but the extraordinary. Does she deliver? Oh God, yes – in spades! From the rasping, smoked-honey raunchiness of Peggy Lee’s ‘Is That All There Is?’, a hymn to existential angst, which Camille memorable concludes by shattering a glass, it’s clear we’re in for a night of prime, Bette Davis excess. Similarly, Tom Waits’ ‘Misery Is The River Of The World‘ is dispatched in a rousing, transfixed cabaret trance, while Brel’s ‘Amsterdam’- sung acapella, and punctuated only by Camille’s thrillingly stamped boot-heel- is raw, raucous and revelatory.
Tonight, mercifully, is a semi-miraculous rendition of Camille’s preferred and Deeply Alternative Great American Songbook, as ambitious and fully-fleshed as the woman herself, who’s nothing like the preferred, half-starved waifs routinely served up by the X-Factor and its’ ilk, all riding an anorexia express to probable and lasting oblivion. Camille, however, has flesh, venom and talent by the bucket-load, and- as she tears into Bowie’s ‘Five Years‘ and ‘All The Young Dudes‘ – makes Bowie’s recorded originals seem pallid and restrained, not the demented, sheerly brilliant, derailed train-wrecks that tear so thrillingly from Camille’s orgasmically dilated lips! Still, both songs are queer, Holy scripture from Bowie’s early 70s supernova brilliance, which unquestionably pioneered the entire, genderfluid lexicon, and so Camille – radiantly transfixed by her complete adoration of Bowie – reworks his masterworks as fierce, non-binary dispatches even new, queer icon Ezra Furman would bow down and die for!
There’s much more, of course – Nick Cave’s supremely tender ‘Ship Song‘, and Dylan’s ‘Simple Twist Of Fate‘- but the pure killer, indisputably, is a pin-drop, whisper-quiet take on Prince’s ‘Purple Rain‘, where Camille, arguably, makes the only mis-step of the entire show, asking her unfortunately tone-deaf audience to participate!
That catastrophe aside, the show’s a ravishing, opium dream, the epitome of being comprehensively, aurally pleasured by an impossibly glamourous – and ultra-ballsy – gay-friendly diva! If Camille only originated material, she’d be untouchably superb, but currently, we’re forced to be satisfied with the heavyweight, sonic boxing punch Camille routinely delivers, easily on par with Rolling In The Deep, Adele’s smoking, steamroller portrait of lacerated angst! And Christ, that’s the least Camille delivers, and I’m in shell-shocked awe imagining what she’ll eventually unleash! Beg, borrow or buy tickets to her next show – November 29th@London’s Union Chapel – because it’s way past time to have your gay-friendly possibilities massively expanded!