Interview with… Camille O’Sullivan

The singer and performer spoke to Love London Love Culture about her show The Carny Dream, playing at the Wilton’s Music Hall from the 10th to the 21st April. 

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Hi Camille thank you for talking to Love London Love Culture. Could you tell me a bit more about the show? The Carny Dream is roller coaster of emotions inspired by circus carny people and dreams in all it’s different delightful ways. It’s a magical fantasy world where you can become different things if you learn to dream that you can do it.

I love everything about theatre and I love amazing stories. Stories and music moves people and brings people together. Theatre makes you look at the life you live and hold a mirror up to the world you live in and the life you live. Good theatre – even if it’s dark – it makes you question your life and makes you a better person. I perform songs by all my favourite artists and story tellers, such as Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, David Bowie and Shakespeare. They all give me characters that I can immerse myself in and live in that world while I’m there. Everyone has an aspect of themselves that they don’t show to people in real life, but on stage I’m allowed to do that. The show is my way to share that with people. People who don’t want to get too emotional every day, but it unlocks some things inside them so they can live a little.

How did you come up with the concept for The Carny Dream?  I was with my child getting her to bed at night reading her bedtime stories and they’re magical, so I wanted to bring that element to my show. When I started people weren’t doing this type of thing and so they thought it was a tribute act but then realised that I was doing my own thing and my own interpretation. I’m chameleon-like on stage and there’s a little gingerbread house to give the feeling of children’s fairy tales. I created a world with little rabbits and a pig and there’s a wolf that we have too. There’s also a vintage dress that lights from within. There’s blood red cape and a sparkly cape. There’s a lot of pre-recorded sounds from old movies and Shakespeare quotes about dreams. The circus world fascinated me when I was growing up and I loved how people come from the wrong side of the tracks to entertain and delight. The whole show ends with a beautiful lullaby and a dream, with Puck from Shakespeare waving us farewell.

Have you got a favourite song that you enjoy performing in the show?  I’m a big fan of Nick Cave so Ship Song is in there. Also I perform songs by Tom Waites, David Bowie, Goldfrapp, Radio Head and Bob Dylan. And Leonard Coen with Anthems. When you sing the songs of Nick Cave and Tom Waite, you have to make it your own. You have to love the song and hope that comes across – you can’t just impersonate them. I like to be firm and dark and provocative and make people think about their lives when I’m on stage. People have said it’s a roller coaster of emotion and it is. It goes from the hidden stuff and the open stuff. The dark and the light. You’d have to look at about eight songs on YouTube to see what the show is about. That’s why I choose such a wide range. I love ‘Look Mummy No Hands’ because it’s a very poignant song. Then it flows to the big mad guitar riffs. The audience can relax and see the very beautiful sad songs then crazy ones to lift it.

What can audiences expect from the The Carny Dream?  When you tell a story to an audience it should take you to another level and make them think. If it’s emotional or funny it doesn’t matter as long as they’re thinking. People return to theatre and to see singers because they’re interested in what we have to say with the performances that we do. I choose this life because I love stories and I love telling stories. I looked at my record collection and saw that they were full of worlds I want to inhabit. A song can be three or four minutes long and it can change someone’s emotions or bring them out of themselves.  Story helps us express our lives. If I hear a story about a tiger who has had a bad life, then I’ll be in tears. Music, stories and anything that makes you laugh, cry or dance are so powerful and they multiply the emotions by 100. I like eclectic and usual artists. You can be a young child. An angry man. A mother. A drinker or a lover. My life is more interesting on stage than in real life and that’s why I cherish it so much.

What would you like to happen to the show in the future?  The beginning of the show changes a lot and will carry on doing so, so people don’t know where they are or what to expect. The end of the show is a love letter to David Bowie and Leonard Coen. I use his line ‘There’s a crack in everything and that’s how the light gets in’. They feature heavily because they made dreams come true for me because I became a singer just by listening to them. There’s a different person from me who we meet on stage with vulnerability and darkness and light too. I expose the audience to people’s lives and exploring the ups and down of life.

Why should people come along and see the show?  They should come to express themselves and have a drink and a laugh and enjoy life again. Be like a child and enjoy the innocence of it all again. People need to be lured back to remembering that life can be good. People need to see the joy to life and the darkness and it’s OK to spent 90 minutes and then wonder who you are after that. Also come to be in the venue – it’s incredible. It’s a timeless place and it’s one of the most beautiful places in London. Anyone who loves the artists I perform songs by should come. I don’t do things by half. There’s great joy in music and I enjoy giving that joy to the people who come and see my show. I enjoy a drink on stage and hope they will do.

Camille O’Sullivan The Carny Dream is at Wilton’s Music Hall from 10th – 21st April. For info and tickets go to:

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