Touring – reviewed at King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
The heart and soul of Louis de Bernières’ 1994 novel, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, is caught with sometimes burning intensity in this stage version, at the King’s before moving to the Glasgow King’s and London’s Harold Pinter Theatre.
Director Melly Still uses tightly-observed physical comedy and Harry Blake’s evocative music to offset the original’s bittersweet taste of its romances and its devastating depiction of war. In so doing, it gets much closer to that original than the 2001 movie.
Set on the Greek island of Cephalonia before, during and after the Second World War, Rona Munro’s adaptation gives her characters plenty of room to breath and, with a real sense of the balance needed in bringing a novel to the stage, allows a strong mix of both showing and telling to frame its narrative.
Luminous at the production’s core is Madison Clare’s performance as Pelagia, the independently minded daughter of the island’s medic and philosophising historian, Dr Iannis. Determined to forge her own way as a doctor herself, she is at the centre of two the play’s trio of romances.
Her love for the tongue tied fisherman Mandras, given a wonderful intensity by Ashley Gayle, drives the upbeat, early scenes. There is a freshness and vitality to their wooing, which is only brought down at the onset of war, as Mussolini’s armies attack Greece through Albania, and he goes off to fight.
But it is her illicit affair with Alex Mugnaioni as the Italian Captain Corelli, part of the invading force who is sent to board with the Iannis, that the sense of hope is fully realised in the play’s second half. Suddenly music comes into force – not just Mugnaioni’s delicious mandolin playing, but also Corelli’s soldiers’ singing of Verdi arias.
The third romance is centred around the Italian soldier Carlo who, realising he is different at an early age, enlists in the belief of the Homeric ideal that an army of lovers will fight for each other. His own love, for his fellow soldier Francesco that he can not speak of, delineates the early onset of war and successes of the Greek army before the arrival of German tanks to help their Italian allies.
It is a strong, solid performance from Ryan Donaldson as Carlo. As a character, Carlo helps shape the arc of the show, but in a sometimes taciturn but always expressive performance, Donaldson also provides a key to its deeper meanings.
Most of the telling comes from Joseph Long as Dr Iannis. Reading out his attempts to write his own history of the island provide both descriptions of its physical aspect – notably its intense light – and also of the historical invasions and occupations provides a wider context for the particularities of events.
The showing is of broad sweeps of time as famine sweeps the island during the occupation. Still wields her 15-strong company to great effect and, often with Corelli sitting picking out tunes on his Mandolin, shows how mundane life in occupied territories filters by during war. Or, with gut wrenching intensity, the punctuating extremes – and crimes – of war itaself.
Tightly worked physical comedy might not be the first thing you would expect here. But, thanks to two stellar performances, the animals in Pelagia’s life are given character and form. Luisa Guerreiro is a revelation as her ruminating goat while Elizabeth Mary Williams is a lithe presence as the pine-marten Psipsina. Neither have lines to speak, but their actions reflect and enhance our understanding of the relationships around them.
Ashley Gayle, Eve Polycarpou, Stewart Scudamore, Madison Clare and Eliot Giuralarocca. Pic Marc Brenner
Munro provides plenty by way of surrounding characters. Eve Polycarpou as Mandras’s constantly carping nationalist mother, Drosoula, Kezrena James as Lemoni – always with an eye for the main chance – Stewart Scudamore as communist strongman Velisarios and Kate Spencer as German officer, Gunter, all help flesh out the nuances of island life.
But it is to Pelagia and the bitter failure of lovers which Munro really addresses herself. Pelagia, Mandras and Corelli all fail to understand and make allowances for each other. And perhaps, it is only in Carlo’s final selfless act that true love is shown.
Effortlessly staged in front of Mayou Trikerioti’s design, a burnished copper crumpled letter on which the patterns of events can be projected, this is a production which allows aching heartbreak to overcome any nods to cloying sentimentality.
Running time: Two hours and 40 minutes (including one interval)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ. Phone booking: 0131 529 6000
Tuesday 18 to Saturday 22 June 2019
Evenings: 7.30pm, Matinees, Weds, Sat: 2.30pm.
Tickets: Book online here.
Then touring to Glasgow:
Glasgow Theatre Royal, 282 Hope Street, G2 3QA
Tuesday 25 – Saturday 29 June 2019
Evenings: 7.30pm; Matinees Thurs, Sat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book online here.
And a limited season in London:
Harold Pinter Theatre, Panton Street, London SW1Y 4DN
Thursday 4 July – Saturday 31 August 2019.
Tickets and details: Book online here.
Book and film available from Amazon. Click images for details:
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin on tour 2019:
Tue 18 – Sat 22 June
0131 529 6000
Tue 25 – Sat 29 June
0844 871 7648
Thurs 4 July – Sat 31 Aug
Harold Pinter Theatre
0844 871 7622
Alex Mugnaioni and members of the company. Pic Mark Brenner