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It really feels like Sydney Festival has begun for another year when you are settling in to whichever Spiegeltent is in town for another evening with Camille O’Sullivan on stage. One of the perennial performers of Sydney’s premier arts festival, Ms. O’Sullivan keeps us coming back each year because there is nobody else who does what she does the way she does it: pouring herself into each and every song with 100% commitment, holding back nothing, hurting herself hard for us as if her life depends on it.



They are the songs of her heroes: Bowie, Cohen, Cave, Brel, utterly owned and reinterpreted in ways that momentarily make you forget the originals. Sometimes they’re spliced together with a wildly different song midstream (Pink Floyd’s Eclipse made an unexpected appearance like this on Opening Night) and at others they are so radically de and re-constructed it takes a few lines to work out what it is at all.



This is not everyone’s cup of tea, especially now that ever-increasing ticket prices ($60-$70 plus booking fee, this year) means that the vast majority of the audience here was either recently retired or just about to join their ranks. The occasionally hard-rocking trio behind her was either too loud or too abrasive for a fair few of them, who bled away throughout the evening. Their loss, but it was a shame to see so few younger faces in the crowd, as they would have probably loved it all so much more.



Still, the walkouts were a small minority, and those that remained seemed entranced by even some of the more obscure covers (Mott the Hoople’s All The Young Dudes was a raucous triumph) alongside her more well known interpretations, like Nick Cave’s The Ship Song or Cohen’s Anthem. The night was dedicated to the recently departed David Bowie and Leonard Cohen, so the focus was on their work this year, but however she compiles her set list, I’m sure we’ll return yet again next year to do it all again.

In a less enjoyable post-script, it was sad to leave the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent excited by the show, only to find yourself in an unattractive and moribund Sydney Festival Garden in Hyde Park. What was once the beating, buzzing heart of the annual festival experience was a pale shadow of its former self, pared back into something that felt like a lame, badly laid out afterthought. It once was somewhere you could happily hang out for hours. Now it’s made of milk crates, cable ties, plywood and hoardings, somewhere between a childcare centre playground and a construction site, with a few food and drink stalls thrown in, including newcomer Nel Restaurant tucked away behind the Spiegeltent. It’s obviously all about the ticketed events these days in user-pays Sydney, even at festival time. Pity...

Details: Sydney Festival runs from 9-27 January, 2019.
Photos: Victor Frankowski supplied by Original Spin.

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