25 May 2012

Paul Capsis – a living national treasure

This week I’ve been doing one of the things I love most, that is sitting in a theatre and taken on an emotional and enriching journey, and this time struck gold as I also leant something new about myself as a result of the experience.

I’ve been to see the much talked about and critical acclaimed Angela’s Kitchen Paul Capsis’ evocative and beautifully staged piece of autobiographical theatre at the intimate Stables in Kings Cross.

But first can I take you back to about the late eighties or the turn of the decade and to DCM nightclub in Oxford Street which was really at the centre of drag performance and performance artist’s of the day. This is when I first made the acquaintance of Paul Capsis. He was a young man I suspect in his early 20’s who would occasionally perform what was to later become his stable of female singers. The look was early nineties androgynous, the voice something unique and in all - a package we hadn’t really seen before.

I recall that the first show of Paul’s was for the Mardi Gras festival of 1992 when he unleashed his talent on the greater Sydney GLTB scene in The Lady is a Camp at Belvoir Street Theatre where he performed channeling divas from decades past Marlene Dietrich, Janis Joplin, Judy Garland and Billie Holiday. The rest as they say is history and over the years he has given us some very memorable queer slanted shows such as Burning Sequins, Burlesque Tour and Boulevard Delirium. He is one of my all-time favourite cabaret performers – god can he sing.

But he can also act and tell stories and it’s the whole talented and gifted package that I say makes Paul Capsis a living national treasure. This show Angela’s Kitchen is story telling at its most excellent, entertaining and educational.


In 1948 Angela, Paul’s grandmother, left Malta as one of the first ten pound migrants. Gathered up her five children and sailed out on the Strathnavar, leaving poverty and the war behind. She settled in Surry Hills and we are invited to learn how that life was, and how it developed. Paul plays most of the family players of the story and we are invited to laugh with him and almost despair at the challenges they face - but fundamental to it all we are invited to meditate on the joy and strength of close family.

We learn of Paul’s journey back to Malta, and through some very fine writing we are with him on the harbourside of Kalkara as he experiences the essence of his family background and in turn himself.

I first saw Paul in a play called Playgrounds at the Sydney Theatre Company in 1996 directed by Wayne Harrison and written by Nick Enright where Paul played a very emotionally charged gay Turkish schoolboy affected by feelings of isolation and sense of self. It’s a performance that has never left me and here in the Stables I saw glimpses of this young guy, albeit not hidden behind a character other than him. I felt Paul, through this piece, was showing his audience his heart, his values and his core. It seems to me this show must be very liberating and empowering for him as an artist and individual.   

Angela’s Kitchen will head off on a national tour to Parramatta, Canberra, Melbourne and Brisbane following this Stables season – can I persuade you to visit griffintheatre.com.au for all the info.

Last year Paul won the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards individual award - $50,000. This, he says, will allow him to work out what comes next.

''I want to do something new and different as a singer and a performer,'' he says. ''I don't know if it's an album or a show. I just want the time to think. While I'm running around, I can't do more than one thing at a time. I'm not good at multitasking.''

As a huge fan I for one can’t wait for the next chapter…