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Windmill’s Rumpelstiltskin: Capsis excels in updated fable

Rumpelstiltskin has just had an extreme makeover. In Windmill Theatre’s sensational new production, the goblin with a gift for spinning straw into gold is now the shapeshifting mastermind of the high-end couture fashion house, Rumpelstiltskin. He is surrounded by wily flunkeys — Rat and Crow — but, because he is too “foul of face and fugly of form” to be seen in public, he has a vain, dimwitted frontman promoting his much sought-after creations.

Writers Rosemary Myers and Julianne O’Brien have retained the structure of the Grimm Brothers fairytale with the three requests for magical transformation, the enabling of a marriage and the crisis of a stolen child, but they pepper the text with celebrity satire and pop culture patois. Instead of the traditional fable’s miller’s daughter, they introduce Harriet from Western Wangaroo, as naive as she is ambitious, who wants to make it in the big smoke and is ready to sell her soul — or give away her baby — to get to the top. Director Myers has gathered the creative team from Windmill’s Pinocchio for even bigger theatrical impact. Jonathon Oxlade, whose previous designs for School Dance, The Wizard of Oz, Pinocchio and Girl Asleep have become Windmill signatures, has created a stylishly simple deco Looney Tunes sound shell (lit by Gavin Norris) in which the action takes place and on which text, airbrush motifs and Chris Edser’s magically fluid animations are projected. Oxlade’s witty evocation of Friz Freleng cartoons, Matisse cutouts and 1930s graphic motifs are tantalising, as are his audacious costumes echoing Mary Quant, 1970s kitsch and Edith Head.

Windmill regular Jethro Woodward’s music is at his best. Song after song, from the poignant Breakable Boy and Dumb Love to the upbeat Life at the Top and Credit Rock Song, demonstrate his range across pop genres. Baby Song, the finale, a soul belter commandingly performed by Ezra Juanta, clinches the night.

The performances are terrific. In the lead, Paul Capsis in op-art costume and heavy framed specs, brings wizardly power and memorable pathos to the misunderstood goblin. He sings like Peggy Lee, cackles like the cast of Wicked and galvanises the show.

He is also well served by his associates — as Rat and Crow, Alirio Zavarce and Elena Carapetis smoothly deliver the satirical barbs and in-jokes while Matt Crook is hilarious as the Fake-Rumpel and Juanta is a scream as Baby. Michaela Burger excels as Tootie: whistled up by Rumpelstiltskin’s magic, she sings superbly and dances too. Also essential to the show’s success is Ashton Malcolm, droll and endearing as Harriet, who stuffs up — but deserves her fourth chance.

Rumpelstiltskin. By Rosemary Myers and Julianne O’Brien. Windmill Theatre Co and State Theatre Company of South Australia. Dunstan Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, October 14. Tickets: $28-$64. Bookings: 131 246 or online. Duration: 2hr including interval. Until October 30.

Written by Murray Bramwell

Review first appeared on The Australian

By Chloe Svaikauskas

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