This winter Southbank Centre plays host to a familiar fairytale with a decidedly modern twist as Windmill Theatre Co. and State Theatre Company Australia bring their take on Rumpelstiltskin to our Queen Elizabeth Hall. Described as a ‘visually stunning world of magic and mayhem’’ the show offers stunning costumes, larger-than-life characters and a rocking soundtrack in a production that’s perfect for all ages.
Ahead of this UK premiere, actor Paul Capsis, who plays the title role of Rumpelstiltskin, took time out from final rehearsals in Australia to talk to us about the show and what drew him to the role, as well as his background as a performer.
You’re incredibly well known in Australia Paul, but perhaps may not be as familiar to a UK audience. How would you describe yourself as a performer?
I am quite a high energy performer, I definitely become a different person on stage. I channel and find another part of myself, a heightened version of who I am normally. I just love the engagement with the audience and all the elements of a production coming together.
I like to perform in works that bring theatre and music together. Those two things are my happy place as a performer. As opposed to just playing in a theatre piece or being in a concert – and I love both, very much – the ideal for me is when they come together, as they do in Rumpelstiltskin.
You’ve enjoyed a rich career on stage and screen, of the many roles you’ve played is there one that stands out as your favourite?
I have had such a wonderful, lucky 36-year long career, which makes that a very difficult question! For me probably playing the MC in Cabaret in Melbourne and Sydney last year was a highlight. As was playing Stromboli in Windmill and State Theatre’s Pinocchio, which played in New York in 2015. Another was playing Beverly Dumont in a production of Calpurnia Descending with Sister’s Grimm, and of course Rumpelstiltskin. They’re just a few recent ones.
If you could perform alongside anyone, on stage or screen, who would it be?
There are so many people. I could say Judy Davis, one of our own Australian performers, Bette Midler, Betty Davis, Ian McKellen, the list is endless. But if I had to pick one, oh my God, it would be Judy Garland, because of how extraordinary she was. I’m aiming high. I get the sense that she was a very kind and empathetic person. And funny, and powerful. She had the most extraordinary gift.
You’re soon to be starring here at Southbank Centre in Windmill Theatre Co and State Theatre Company South Australia’s Rumpelstiltskin. You’ve worked with these companies before – on their production of Pinocchio – what is it about their approach that keeps you coming back?
I keep coming back because of the fun we have with this collection of creatives. I’ve never really encountered it anywhere else, I only know it from Windmill and State Theatre. They seriously are a family for me now, and I’m so thrilled every time I come to Adelaide to work with director Rosemary Myers and the team.
There is a license to be open, to have fun and to be fully supported. I love the characters I’ve gotten to play as well as the productions and the design. I got to meet Rosemary, who is one of my top five favourite directors, and Jethro Woodward (composer and musical director on Rumpelstiltskin), in my opinion one of the best musical directors in Australia. I just can’t say enough good things.
I believe Rumpelstiltskin was the first show you saw as a child. What can you remember of that performance?
It was my first time in the Sydney Opera House, in the 1970s, not long after it opened. I went with my Auntie and I remember being so engaged. It was so long ago but it clearly had an effect on me as I still remember a few things. There was lots of beautiful fabric, there was gold on the floor and a weaver’s wheel on the stage. I became so emotionally invested in the plight of the poor girl, who was mistreated by all the men in the story, but came out victorious in the end. I also remember hating Rumpelstiltskin, the evil little gnome weaving the gold, and being really frightened of the character.
And how does this more modern take on the story differ? Or is it quintessentially the same experience?
Our version is way more expansive in how we’ve recreated the story. It’s a very modern story of a young girl – Harriet in our version – who leaves her hometown for the big dirty city, where she engages with this goblin who makes promises to her but takes things from her as well. In all the Brothers Grimm stories there is a moral, but in our version it’s familiar, 21st Century morals. What are you prepared to do to achieve your goals? Be careful what you wish for.
Rumpelstiltskin is a fashion maker in our production, and he has a lot to say. Of course he speaks, he sings and he dances. He has a soft side to him, but he also has a ruthless, nasty side. He’s like a cross between Rupert Murdoch and Isabella Blow.
Are you looking forward to bringing the show to London? And do you think a UK audience will take to the show differently to the Australian audiences who’ve seen it?
Well I’m beyond excited about London because it’s one of my favourite cities in the world. I’ve been very fortunate to play in London before, I played the Roundhouse a few years ago in a big cabaret show. I think English audiences tend to be very engaged, my experience of them is they just let themselves go and get into it, so I hope that happens with our performance. Sometimes in Australia audiences can be a little hesitant, but when they love something it’s like nothing else.
And finally, if you’re able to say, without giving too much away, what should audiences look forward to most about this performance?
There’s so much to look forward to. The songs are great and we have some of the best musical theatre performers in Australia. But I will say audiences should definitely look out for the baby. When the baby makes its arrival, he can bring the house down, and I shan’t say anything more.