Touring – reviewed at Curve Leicester
Following Melly Still’s moving and visually stunning production of The Lovely Bones last year, I had high hopes for her latest literary adaptation, Louis de Bernières’ Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (1994). While I haven’t read the novel, it seems that Rona Munro has made a valiant effort in bringing what appears to be a particularly dense, episode laden tale that spans decades to the stage with coherence and lyricism. However, I found the production a little too segmented and erratic (especially in regards to establishing the central relationships).
De Bernières’ story focuses on the Italian occupation of Greece during the Second World War, specifically the small island of Cephalonia. Soldiers set up camp with the locals, and the titular Captain (Alex Mugnaioni) is designated a bed with the resident physician, Dr Iannis (Joseph Long), and his disgruntled daughter, Pelagia (Madison Clare).
It soon becomes clear that the Italians have little invested in the war and soon become part of the small Greek community, especially Corelli, a keen musician and composer with a romantic outlook on life. After a series of barbed encounters the inevitable happens – Corelli and Pelagia fall for each other, but with the Germans now turned against the Italians the war threatens to come between the lovers for generations to come.
All this I recount is from the second act. Corelli only appears at the very end of the first act and preceding this there is a very drawn out build-up. Not to say that this backstory isn’t interesting – it is; focusing on the naivety of young boys going off to fight in a war they don’t understand, scrutinising the social customs of marriage and betrothal, and features a rather touching vignette of lost love between two Italian soldiers that evermore haunts our narrator, Carlo (Ryan Donaldson).
My problem is that by soaking up so much of the running time with this expository first half, the second act feels underbaked in comparison. We are told that the romance between Corelli and Pelagia is ‘true’ and passionate (there’s a reason the novel is considered a modern classic), yet on stage Munro and Still manufacture a relationship based on merely a couple of pithy one-liners, an awkward entanglement in a web of string (bushes, a wood, perhaps?) and the lilting tremolo of the Captain’s cherished mandolin. Unfortunately, I wasn’t wholly convinced that this was the love story of the century. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that Pelagia’s relationship with local soldier and partisan, Mandras (Ashley Gayle) felt more developed, complex and believable.
Still imposes a strong identity in her direction, the production features her trademark use of personified animals (George Siena gets the most from the cast, choreographing animalistic movement with great personality and warmth), rustic props and an ethereal tone to the treatment of life and death. Perhaps the greatest achievement lies in Mayou Trikerioti’s brutally beautiful set design. Lit from behind in a shroud of smoke, two immense sheets of metal loom over the playing space. Solid and robust, this centrepiece appears at once grounded, earthy and embellished by the rusty bloodshed of battle, before shifting with a change of light to a shimmering air, evoking the rustic yet breezy enchantment of Greek island life. Tangible, yet intangible, Trikerioti’s set is a work of art in and of itself.
While Munro and Still’s production didn’t set my heart aflame, the production is memorable (not least for a barnstorming performance from Eve Polycarpou – never has a woman wailed so enthusiastically!), playful, and I imagine does more justice to de Bernières work than the critically panned film from the early 2000s. And the mandolin music is rather lovely.
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin plays at Curve, Leicester until 20th April followed by a UK tour.For further tour details please visit: captaincorellismandolin.com Madison Clare and Alex Mugnaioni in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Credit: Marc Brenner