How many characters can a person take on? At one stage in Paul Capsis' show he recounts an average evening mealtime at his grandparents' home and comfortably becomes six people - three male and three female, over three generations - with perfect clarity and barely raises a sweat.
The accents, the actions, the personalities and the clashes are all there and, apart from being hilarious to watch, the empathy he shows and invites is magical - by the show's end the audience loves his nanna nearly as much as he obviously did. Angela was his grandmother and, over a series of chats in her kitchen, we learn about her average but extraordinary life. Average because her experiences would have been echoed in many Maltese families and many migrant households across Australia, but extraordinary in her stoic approach, work ethic, humour and, above all, her love for her family - and Paul's extraordinary devotion to her.
It is also a tale of Malta, the most-bombed part of Europe during WWII, and how a place can become part of a person's character and being, even when they have never been there. While his grandparents settled in Sydney, their story is easily recognisable to anyone who has ever met a migrant - especially a Maltese migrant - at any time.
It is a mark of Capsis' talent that he can conjur up each member of his family simply by shifting his stance, adopting an expression or picking another voice from the vast array at his disposal. Kath and Kim fans will notice a few other similarities too. It is also a rare show of writing skill that the story gives such a frank, warts-and-all account of who and how his family were, yet entirely without judgement and inducing such warmth and affection. If there is any criticism to be made, then it is the counterbalance of its strength: the fact that Capsis is recounting his own family tale adds huge power to what is a brilliant performance, but it also means that he is possibly too close to be objective, consequently there are a few loose minutes that could be shaved off this 80-minute tale that would maintain pace and avoid audience restlessness.
While he rebuilds and reclaims our concentration for a touching finale, that downtime cost him some of the earlier rapport he had built - and possibly the standing ovation he would otherwise surely received. This show was a sell out in Sydney and is likely to do the same in Melbourne. With good reason.
Malthouse Theatre and Griffin Theatre Company present
By Paul Capsis and Julian Meyrick
Venue: Malthouse Theatre, 113 Sturt Street, Southbank
Dates: September 4-23, 2012
Bookings: malthousetheatre.com.au or 9685 5111