Paul Capsis Recounts Grimm Tales For Rumpelstiltskin
The Adelaide Review sits down with Paul Capsis mid-way through rehearsals for Rumpelstiltskin to chat about childhood memories and Rosemary Myers’ contemporary vision of the infamous fairy tale.
“It was the very first thing I ever saw performed,” says Paul Capsis, star of the new Windmill and State Theatre Company production Rumpelstiltskin, of his first theatre experience. “My Auntie took my cousins and me to the Sydney Opera House, which had just opened, and there was a children’s show, and it was Rumpelstiltskin.”
This first encounter with theatre for the actor, who is now 52, made a deep impression on his world-view, and he would always remember the horrid tale of Rumpelstilskin, the magical imp who manipulates a young seamstress and steals her infant child.
“I remember I got really emotionally involved, and I didn’t understand what was going on,” he says. “I just hated that man, that person making that poor beautiful girl do all this stuff with gold. I remember it had a real impact on me, and I never forgot it.”
And so it is, much in the way that fairy tale narratives come full-circle, that Capsis will play the character he reviled so strongly as a child.
But this new musical production, co-written by Windmill Theatre’s Julianne O’Brien and Rosemary Myers (who also directs), is set to cast those classic fairy tale characters in a new light. The girl and Rumpelstilskin will not be the two-dimensional archetypes the Brothers Grimm wrote of, but more rounded, contemporary characters.
“The girl this time is not a victim,” says Capsis. “In the original story she’s a victim of the father, the king, Rumpel. Everything is conspiring against her and she’s sobbing in a room. But in this rendition, she’s making the decisions. Rumpel has a journey too. He’s involved in fashion and he makes clothing and he uses magic, as he did with the gold. I want the audience to feel some empathy towards him.”
This style, typical for Windmill Theatre and the minds of Myers and O’Brien, aims to subvert stereotypes, and turn those narrative tropes of good versus evil on their head. The show is set to be, in Myers’ words “an uplifting family musical” with an impressive audio-visual contingent to it.
“I think people will be surprised by how the story is reinterpreted here,” Capsis says. “We’re totally twisting it around.”
Of course, this is no simple task when you consider the inherent darkness of the original Brothers Grimm tale, where a woman is locked away, her baby is stolen and an imp graphically tears himself in two. Not to give too much away, but audiences should expect spellbinding animations, razor sharp writing and farcical theatrics to lighten the mood all over.
Likewise, a focus on rounding those characters with modern concerns will help bind audiences to the action on stage.
“It’s got the essence of the Brothers Grimm but it’s expanded,” Capsis says. “At the core of it, we want empathy for Rumpel and the girl, and the audience to change and shift as it goes. That’s what I love about Windmill; they don’t talk down to children – they educate. I think that’s what the Brothers Grimm were about in their time too.”
Will the show still contain a thread of that Grimm-esque darkness though?
“There will be if I can help it!” Capsis says. “I’m pulling in a certain darkness for sure.”
Capsis has the privilege of the Rumpelstiltskin role being tailor written to his unique talents. After working with the same creative team on Pinocchio, which toured internationally, O’Brien and Myers knew they could harness Capsis’ theatrical cabaret brilliance for Rumpelstilskin.
“I’m incredibly honoured,” says a humbled Capsis. “I was beside myself that she was thinking of doing the show and having me play Rumpel. My experience with Pinocchio was completely entirely a positive experience and I fell in love with the company.”
The production process for Rumpelstiltskin is frenetic. Attending an early rehearsal, this writer saw the simultaneous construction of set, song rehearsals, choreography practise and all manner of other preparation taking place in the same room all at once. With only half-a-dozen weeks of preparation to build such an ambitious production, one might worry that everything will be achieved on time. But sober reflection on the consistently polished productions from Windmill and the State Theatre Company allays any of those fears.
Capsis explains that “making a brand new show from scratch” creates a “highly pressured environment” but gives thanks to the professionalism and culture of these creative teams.
“We’re working very fast and Rosemary is pretty quick to say whether she likes or dislikes something, and we have the luxury of having [co-writer] Julianne in the room. We’re dramaturging as we go.”
Written by John Dexter
Article first appeared on The Adelaide Review