Quietly -“ and more softly than any of the divas he impersonates -“ Paul Capsis has developed a second career as an actor.

Yes, he won a Green Room award this year for best cabaret artist; and yes, he just completed his first CD from a live recording of his Angel Place concert last year.

But sitting at the end of the Walsh Bay Wharf in the heart of the Sydney Theatre Company, Capsis is definitely an actor. At least for today.

I always find the transition really difficult, Capsis says. The first two or three weeks of this I was like, what am I doing? Theatre? I don’t know. Am I an actor? I haven’t done it for so long. I don’t know if I can do it any more -¦
But you build. You talk to the other actors and they’re going through the same thing you are -¦

Capsis was last on stage with the STC in Volpone, a camp Elizabethan comedy that bulged with sets and costumes and bounced along in iambic pentameter.

This time he’s part of a small cast presenting Seneca’s Thyestes, a 2,000-year-old tragedy in a production Capsis describes as stripped back, strongly lit, physically-based, and wild.

Thyestes is gruesome stuff (spoiler alert!): a tragedy about two brothers fighting to become king, in a battle that ends with the beheading and cooking of Thyestes’s sons.

The poster suggests Capsis gets to chow down on baby-ganoush, but Capsis actually plays the main course. He’s one of the kiddies, although he also plays the Fury -“ a winged female divinity who stabs with pangs of conscience (think Jiminy Cricket with serpent hair).

Of course in Seneca’s play there were three Furies, but this text has been adapted by local writer Brendan Cowell. Capsis thinks it’s for the best.

It’s very different from Caryl Churchill’s translation or even Seneca -¦ he says. When you read the Seneca there’s really long, intricate descriptions. Brendan has got to the source, I feel, of what is being said -¦ For me the piece is about love and betrayal.

The question came up on day one: -˜why this piece, why now?’ and he felt the piece was very relevant in terms of what’s going on in the world. And that’s very sad and tragic really, he says.

No such tragedy hangs over Capsis though, who beams when asked about his ongoing relationship with Simon Watts, executive director of the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation.

It’s fabulous! he says, producing a lunchbox. My darling made me my lunch this morning.

It’s such an unashamedly cute moment, a zillion miles from Toula, his drag queen character from the film Head On, or the tortured existences of his alter egos Judy, Liza, and Janis.

We’ve been together for five years and been living together for three years. It’s been wonderful -¦ he says. I think we homosexuals have very special lives. We have our own special way of living and I like that.

Thyestes is presented as part of the Sydney Theatre Company’s Wharf 2 Blueprints program and is
playing at the Wharf 2 Theatre, Walsh Bay, from 23 July until 7 August. Phone 9250 1777.

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