Rosa Munro, the author of the ‘James Plays’ a few years ago, has now attempted the seemingly impossible by adapting Louis de Berniere’s sprawling, epic novel for the stage. The result is awe-inspiring at times, using music and great physicality from the actors in order to convey the sweep of the action. As she says ‘it is such a huge and complex novel and inevitably we’ve had to cut a lot out’.
This bittersweet pair of love stories set on the Greek island of Cephalonia during the Second World War and just afterwards works well on stage, especially in the second act, which concentrates on the growing relationship between the Italian Captain Corelli and the islander, Pelagia.
He is played, in an almost British stiff upper lip, understated way, by Alex Mugnaioni. Unfortunately, he has little to do in Act One so that his almost continuous presence after the interval makes this half the much more powerful.
She is portrayed, very believably, by Madison Clare, who is able to bring out all the various facets of the role, especially the pathos, whilst at the same time successfully convincing us of her immaturity.
Carlo, the Italian soldier who in the end gives his life to save Corelli’s, is subtly acted by Ryan Donaldson – he really looks Italian, but for some reason has been told to speak in an Irish accent.
Other major roles include Joseph Long as Pelagia’s father. He is used by Munro to link the whole play together, as the senior person with status on the island, and has the common sense that others perhaps lack. Mandras, Pelagia’s other suitor, is played by Ashley Gayle. Eve Polycarpou demonstrates a fine folk style singing voice as well as a powerful sense of character in the role of Drosoula, Mandras’ mother. She dominates the stage when she is allowed, which is not enough – often she is positioned way upstage to sing – and is one of the few in the cast of fifteen who really convinces that she is Greek – which of course she is!
The director, Melly Still, clearly realised that with an adaptation made up of many short scenes, it was important to give the play great energy and pace, as well as linking the scenes to a seamless whole and she has successfully done this by the use of music – the entire cast sing and dance- composed and arranged by Harry Blake who has produced a memorable score using backing tracks as well as, obviously, mandolin. This is played live on stage by Alex Mugnaioni (Corelli) who is a superb player, not only when accompanying songs, but also by his rendition of a Vivaldi mandolin concerto. The imaginative use of music helps to bind the production into an integrated piece of theatre and greatly aids audience involvement.
A large open stage is used by the designer, Mayou Trikerioti, essential when you have a cast of 15 onstage having a battle, as seems to occur frequently! But this does mean that all entrances take a long time and are therefore flagged up to the audience: it is not possible for an actor to just ‘appear’ which is often essential in any play. It is also frequently dimly lit(Malcolm Rippeth), giving little idea of a hot, sunny Greek island, and, because there are no alterations to the set, becomes slightly monotonous to look at for 150 minutes!
No stage adaptation of a novel such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is going to be perfect, but this is as near perfect as we are likely to get and Rona Munro and Melly Still, especially, are to be congratulated for enabling us to get involved with de Berniere’s highly believable characters.
After Kingston, the production tours to Birmingham and then to other theatres in the UK – those with a large enough stage!
Review by John Groves
Cephalonia 1941. Captain Corelli, an enigmatic young Italian officer, is posted to the idyllic Greek island as part of the occupying forces. Shunned by the locals at first, he proves to be civilised, humorous and a consummate musician. The Captain is soon thrown together with Dr Iannis’ strong-willed and beautiful daughter Pelagia, who discovers all the complexities of love, and how it can blossom in the most unexpected and profound way.
Presented by Rose Theatre Kingston, Neil Laidlaw, Church & State Productions and Birmingham Repertory Theatre
Based on the novel by Louis de Bernieres | Adapted by Rona Munro | Directed by Melly Still
Alex Mugnaioni – Captain Corelli
Madison Clare – Pelagia
Fred Fergus – Francesco
Joseph Long – Dr Iannis
Graeme Dalling – Soldier
Ryan Donaldson – Carlo
Ashley Gayle – Mandras
Eliot Giuralarocca – Priest
Luisa Guerreiro – Goat
Kezrena James – Lemoni
Eve Polycarpou – Drosoula
John Sandeman – Soldier
Stewart Scudamore – Velisarios
Kate Spencer – Günter
Elizabeth Mary Willams – Psipsina
Twitter.com/corellionstage / @CorelliOnStage
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
Tue 23 Apr – Sun 12 May 2019
Selected Tour Dates
25 – 29 June Theatre Royal, Glasgow