From Oxford Street to the Opera House – Act I: Interrupted introductions

Ben Nielsen brings AussieTheatre readers a three act, epic interview series – From Oxford Street to the Opera House – with Australia’s one and only Paul Capsis.

Act 1 – Interrupted Introductions

“Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, this is your first call to the Concert Hall platform. This afternoon’s rehearsal will commence in ten minutes. Thank you.”

Paul Capsis Headshot

The woman’s polite, well-enunciated voice echoes throughout the Sydney Opera House. For a few seconds, everything comes to a standstill. It’s like listening to a newsreader deliver breaking news over the wireless.

“How dare she!” Paul Capsis yelps. The disembodied voice has interrupted our conversation, and will do so twice more. It’s a joking snipe though, as Capsis seems more than grateful for the opportunity to hurriedly swallow a few more forkfuls of lunch. He has had a busy day; minutes earlier he was onstage at the Drama Theatre and then, as I was waiting for our interview to commence, he was wrapping up a meeting with a union representative.

“It’s been one of those days,” he apologised earlier. “I don’t eat two hours before the show, so you know, it’s been a long time since breakfast.”

Fasting is just one of his pre-show rituals. There’s also a lot of shrieking, breathing and praying. The latter is most curious considering Capsis isn’t even a pious man but, as he explains, he was smothered with religion as a child. He was brought up by his staunchly Catholic Maltese grandmother, was admitted to the Orthodox Church thanks to the Greek side of his family, and studied with the Jehovah’s Witnesses during his teenage years. Now he’s come full circle and identifies as agnostic.

“I think it’s possible that there exists an energy and a spirit of things we can’t actually see,” he says.

“But I don’t know. I think the point of humanity is that we’ve got to be responsible for each other and ourselves. I think you’ve got to do the best you can and be as good as you can while you’re here. That’s how I see it.”

[pull_left]I think the point of humanity is that we’ve got to be responsible for each other and ourselves. I think you’ve got to do the best you can and be as good as you can while you’re here[/pull_left]

He may not quite know to whom he prays, but the action seems to be working miracles. Pinocchio, the production in which he is currently performing, has already enjoyed seasons in Adelaide and Melbourne and is now, at the time of this interview, taking to the Sydney stage.

On the surface the adaptation is an extroverted rock-musical, but emerging from beneath this whimsical façade is a wholesome story that examines the nuances of the human condition. As the character Stromboli, Capsis personifies everything that is wicked in the story – and he clearly enjoys himself, drawing both laughs and gasps.

“I have absolutely fallen head over heels in love with the character. I’m going to find it really hard to let go of Stromboli. I can’t remember the last time I played a character that I loved so much,” he says. “But it’s a very difficult, physical show. It’s not easy because we’re singing, we’re acting, we’re dancing, we’re on a revolve [a mechanical, rotating platform]. That’s been my challenge.”

While he is not nearly as villainous, Stromboli is part of Capsis. Or maybe it’s Capsis in Stromboli. Either way, his unique personality is recognisable in every one of his theatrical manifestations. Johnny in Head On, Riff Raff in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Nico in The Boy Castaways, his multiple roles in The Threepenny Opera. It’s not just the dark, exotic facial features or the jet locks that roll untamed from his head, it’s the physical litheness, the distinctive vocal mannerisms, the bizarreness, the outrageousness, and the flamboyance. The man who sits across the table is without costume, makeup and stage, but somehow, he is theatre.

Act 2: The Wallflower Blooms will be published soon… stay tuned! 

Ben Nielsen

Ben Nielsen is an Adelaide based writer. He has contributed to a variety of publications including artsHub, Dandy Magazine, and the Adelaide* magazine.

Ben Nielsen

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