This year marks the 25th anniversary since Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was first published. The love story, set on the Greek island of Cephalonia, follows the lives of Dr Iannis, his beautiful, strong-willed daughter Pelagia and the Italian Captain Antonio Corelli, during the Italian and German occupation of the island in World War II.
Author Louis de Bernières won the 1995 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize – Overall Winner for Best Book, the 1995 Lannan Literary Award for Fiction and the 1994 Sunday Express Book of the Year and, of course, in 2001, the best-selling novel was adapted into a film starring Nicolas Cage and Penélope Cruz.
Transforming the familiar wartime romance from the page to a theatre setting must have been a challenge but sadly, it seems too ambitious a task to remain faithful to the novel. There are simply too many characters vying for stage time and plot development. The backstory for Carlo (Ryan Donaldson) and his then forbidden gay love for fellow soldier Francesco (Fred Fergus) is heart-rending, but so much so that it distracts from Pelagia’s experiences. Before we meet Corelli, we witness the dwindling young attraction between Pelagia and her illiterate fiancé Mandras (Ashley Gayle) who’s played with more depth and sympathy than we feel for Corelli at any point simply because we get to know him better. Mandras’ fusspot mother Drousoula (Eve Polycarpou) provides some welcome light relief, as do convincing and humorous portrayals of Pelagia’s goat (Luisa Guerreiro) and pine marten Psipsina (Elizabeth Mary Williams). Madison Clare (Pelagia) appears to already be losing her voice but gives a convincingly stubborn performance as a headstrong daughter with amusing chemistry shining between her and her caring father Dr Iannis (Joseph Long).
One gets the feeling when Captain Corelli (Alex Mugnaioni) enters that he is merely a welcome injection of distraction for Pelagia rather than the true love of her life. Yes, he plays the titular instrument satisfactorily, he’s an engaging intelligent air about him, but he doesn’t really ooze the electric personality of the Italian soldier shouldering his mandolin that supposedly turns Pelagia’s world upside down; he’s more of a soppy Colin Firth-type love interest. Mugnaioni isn’t really to blame, he suffers due to the fact Corelli doesn’t get enough lines to win us over; we don’t greet him until the very end of the first act. Although montages and passage of time take us neatly through the dangerous developments of war, we lose the connection to key characters and, frankly, we cease caring by the time the second act is nearing a close. It is a shame as the cast give worthy performances, and the timeless tale should lend itself to an epic modern day re-telling but the ‘true love’ between Pelagia and Corelli barely takes flight before they are torn apart.
The action is aided by a sparse but effective set design, with a backdrop comprising two large sheets of crumpled metal. Projections are used to cleverly transform the metal surface from rippling water on a summer’s day to deadly explosions, churning tanks and to the blood red reality of war claiming its victims. Combined with the intense sound of gunfire and, later, crashing rockfall, it also convincingly conjures up the shattering landscape as the island is hit by the 1953 earthquake. However, again, in terms of narrative, the earthquake feels like an inconvenient footnote that had to be crowbarred in between Corelli’s departure and return. Not to mention the uncomfortable leap from 1950s to a 1990s tourist-saturated island with pop music blaring – it was somewhat jarring to the spirit having witnessed loss and heartbreak moments before.
If you’re a fan of the book or the film, it’s worthwhile rekindling your enthusiasm and satisfying your curiosity with a trip to this production. If you weren’t too enamoured with Corelli in previous guises, this stage adaptation is unlikely to win your heart either.
Title: Captain Corelli’s Mandolin Cast: Alex Mugnaioni (Corelli), Madison Clare (Pelegia), Fred Fergus (Francesco), Joseph Long (Dr Iannis), Ryan Donaldson (Carlo), Ashley Gayle (Mandras), Eve Polycarpou (Drosoula), Graeme Dalling (Soldier), Eliot Giuralarocca (Priest), Luisa Guerreiro (Goat), Kezrena James (Lemoni), John Sandeman (Soldier), Stewart Scudamore (Velisarios), Kate Spencer (Günter), Elizabeth Mary Williams (Psipsina) Writer: Louis De Bernières Adapted by: Rona Munro Directed by: Melly Still Composer: Harry Blake Set and Costume Designer: Mayou Trikerioti Produced by: Neil Laidlaw Productions Venue: Rose Theatre, Kingston before visiting Bath, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Glasgow Dates: 23rd April – 12th May Time: 7pm Duration: 2 hours 30 mins (including interval) Website for tickets and tour info: www.captaincorellismandolin.com