Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – King’s Theatre

Based on the Novel by Louis de Bernières

Adapted by Rona Munro

Directed by Melly Still

Something remarkable occurs on stage this evening. Amidst the inconceivable atrocity of war, the explosions and pain, Rona Munro achieves a paradox in a way only she could. To find beauty in war. A statement which feels wrong, but it’s precisely what Captain Corelli’s Mandolin reaches. It has the angst; harrowing anguish of war yet has a deep ornate construction.

Based on the 1994 novel by Louis De Bernières, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a wartime drama set in Italian and German-occupied Greece, on the island of Cephalonia. We open with a young soldier by the name of Carlos, speaking to the titular Captain of a story. His story. Though really, this narrative goes beyond the simplistic and into the strikingly poetic in its language and storytelling. As we explore the island, a young woman, Pelagia finds desire. Only for us to come to realise that where passion ebbs, love may be found in a sworn enemy.

It may be a story of the various ways in which love may manifest; parental, passionate, harmonious or the love of comrade. At its heart though, both narratively and on stage is Pelagia, played by Madison Clare. Melly Still’s direction, in tandem with excellent writing from Munro help, lift a character who could so easily have been a throwaway ‘strong woman’ motif. What these three do, with performer Clare at Pelagia’s core is craft a determined, human character who is fleshed out, fun and engaging.

The points of beauty are found in three aspects of this evening’s production; It’s poetic language, it’s cast but also in Mayou Trikerioti’s set design. An enveloping sheet metal warped and battered like any scrap of war hangs precariously above. Its blank template becomes a visual feast with Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting. Where communication is not verbal, the shifting colours of fire, ocean and blood speak volumes. 

As always, direct comparisons between a five-hundred-page novel and a two-hour production are inherently fruitless. Instead, Munro’s adaption captures the essence of the book in spirit, losing only a little of its flesh. There’s always something wholly investing, yet terrifying about viewing history from the view of another. Our experiences in Britain are no less tormenting, but so different to an island off of Greece where these were ‘bad – circumstances’.

In trimming the gristle, a slice of taste has been lost. For the most part, a sublime balance is achievable in the back and forth interactions of the village folk, a tremendous amount at the hands of Clare and Joseph Long. There are moments, however, where we cross into (dare we say it) romantic comedy territory. It has the late eighties, early nineties vibe where we briefly confuse our characters for Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. In pursuit of comedy, interactions sit oddly beside the intricate choreography and chilling vocals of Eve Polycarpou.

This too means pacing for the second Act stretches slightly, the climaxes of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin are numerous. With each travesty or revelation, they try to outdo the other. It works on occasion, ripping each gasp from the audience with glee, but towards the end, there isn’t much breath left. The sumptuous use of music already taking most of our breathes away.

Alex Mugnaioni’s Captain Corelli is the embodiment of quixotic intention, impossible not to warm to. It makes the slow-burn of the romance between him and Clare all the more believable. Their chemistry is superb, we invest heavily in not only the romance but the growing friendship and initial animosity between the pair. Interactions between the entire cast are emotive, with Long’s Dr Iannis a connection to the audience, regaling us with Grecian myths to draw parallels with social history.

A unique production which finds itself basking in its adoration for music, love and community – strengthening their importance against the harrows of war. As an adaptation, it serves the source material well only succumbing to a couple tropes in the process. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a hauntingly beautiful piece of theatre, moving its audience.  

Tickets available until June 22nd: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/captaincorelli

Production Touring: http://www.captaincorellismandolin.com/

Image rights: Marc Brenner

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