Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
Rose Theatre Kingston & UK Tour
Reviewed – 1st May 2019
“the musical interludes are moments of beauty that complement the theatricality and flair of this evocative production”
The scale of Louis de Bernières’ visionary novel “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” is probably the main reason why it has taken a quarter of a century for it to be adapted for the stage. The multi layered and varied style of the epic narrative is a daunting prospect, but Rona Munro’s adaptation pinpoints the core of the story and, with a surgeon’s precision, cuts away the excess flesh to expose the rhythms of its passionately beating heart.
Director Melly Still’s adventurous production comes in two distinct parts. The first act comprises a series of finely composed vignettes that not only encapsulate the sultry atmosphere of the Greek island of Cephalonia, but serve also to set up the characters. At first we wonder at the hotchpotch of accents on display (from Irish, Welsh and Yorkshire through to RP) but soon realise the deliberate ploy to challenge stereotypes. We are not being asked to pass judgement, or decide who is the enemy, but to focus on the personalities.
Dr. Iannis (Joseph Long) has brought up his daughter, Pelagia (Madison Clare), on a diet of free thinking, which is now being threatened by the Italian occupation of their island. Meanwhile Carlo (Ryan Donaldson), an Italian soldier, tries to make sense of the invasion. Likewise, Captain Corelli (Alex Mugnaioni), an accomplished musician who carries his mandolin everywhere with him, only takes music, friendship and romance seriously. A reluctant soldier, armed with only his charm and his love of music, he is able to win the heart of Pelagia by his refusal to believe in the Italian invasion of Greece.
Although he doesn’t appear until the end of the first act, Mugnaioni lights up the stage with his strong presence, albeit a touch passionless. His slightly bumbling Englishness contrasts Clare’s feisty Pelagia who soon recognises his detachment to the military cause. But there is also a similar detachment to the relationship which, once ignited, burns slowly. More rounded is the relationship with Pelagia’s first love, Mandras (a brilliantly assured Ashley Gayle), that reveals the complexities of lost love in a more believable fashion.
The central theme of war, though, casts its shadow like an impending storm until it explodes with its full force after the interval. Mayou Trikerioti’s design comes to the fore as her simple yet evocative set of beaten metal morphs from the shimmering idyll of a Grecian seascape into the harsh smoky barrage of the battlefield. Jon Nicholls’ thumping sound echoes the waves of dance-like movement of George Siena’s choreography. The contrast is all too pertinent when, at a stroke, it overlaps with the relative peace of the village and the minutiae of their lives. And it is the finer details of these individuals that captivates most. Not just the people, but the animals too – Luisa Guerreiro threatens to steal each scene as the herb-chomping, affable goat while Elizabeth Mary Williams hangs upside down from a ladder as Psipsina, the athletic pine martin.
But there’s another clue in the title. And, yes, Alex Mugnaioni plays the mandolin exceptionally well. Superimposed onto Harry Blake’s pre-recorded score the musical interludes are moments of beauty that complement the theatricality and flair of this evocative production.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Marc Brenner
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
Rose Theatre Kingston until 12th May then UK Tour continues
Previously reviewed at this venue: