Captain Corelli's Mandolin is playing, literally, at The King’s Theatre Edinburgh this week (Tuesday 18th to Saturday 22nd June) and lovers of the book, or the film (or both) have obviously turned out in their numbers for this well attended production.
I have to admit never having read the original 1994 book by British writer Louis de Bernières, or seen the 2001 film adaptation of the book starring Nicolas Cage, but both have been so successful over the years that I felt like I at least knew a little bit about this story. Set on the Greek island of Cephalonia during the Italian and German occupation of the Second World War, this story is both the story of a local girl falling in love with a Captain from the occupying Italian army and a tribute to the thousands of Italian soldiers executed on the island in a massacre by the German forces on the island when the fortunes of war changed allegiances. Having no book or film pre-conceptions in my mind was, for me though, an advantage here as it means that I am reviewing this production purely on its theatrical stage merits.
There is from the start that feeling of being somewhere very ancient and perhaps moving at a little slower time than the rest of the world, and father and daughter played by Joseph Long (Dr Iannis) and Madison Clare (Pelagia) are, to be honest, interesting enough within their own dynamics not to have needed anyone else in the story, and Joseph and Madison work so well with one another here that the relationship is believable. Even the appearance of our goat played in human form (Luisa Guerreiro) does little to break the spell of this story as somehow we are always treading that line between the Cephalonia of the time and the stories of ancient Greek Mythology.
Very quickly though, the story obviously demands that we meet our main characters in the village, Mandras (Ashley Gayle), Pelagia’s first love interest, his mother Drosoula (Eve Polycarpou) and strongman and staunch communist Velisarios (Stewart Scudamore). As the war in Europe unexpectedly comes to this small island, we are also introduced to the political and military dynamics of that theatre of war (which is not my historical strong point). The result is a lot of background information that has to be given to us, the audience, in a very short period of time, but even then, this takes up nearly all of the first Act before the invading Italian army and our titular Captain Corelli arrive. It is obvious without having read the book or seen the film that this was not an easy story to adapt for the stage and the result is a bit like too many pieces of a jig-saw puzzle trying to fit into the time frame allowable. Add into this the added dimension of extra projected graphics on-screen that are themselves important elements of the story, plus at times difficulty (for me at least) in clearly identifying the ever changing fighting forces, the result is all too often a beautiful and simple story at its core becoming far too complicated.
Our second half is just as confusing at times with its ever shifting opposing forces and some people playing multiple roles, but at least here we get a chance for the true relationship in this story to play out, the one between Pelagia (Madison Clare) and Captain Corelli (Alex Mugnaioni) . Oddly though, despite strong performances from both, there is not that great love affair coming through on stage for me between the two of them, little sense of just what opposition and personal abuse Pelagia would be taking from people in the village for consorting with the enemy. It is good though that Alex Mugnaioni has added some realism here by playing the mandolin competently, if not to the “angelic” abilities of his character. Also coming to the forefront here, but always in a gentle way is the personal relationships between men that war can create in the most unexpected of circumstances.
Captain Corelli's Mandolin was always going to be a difficult project to bring to the stage and Rona Munro (adapoer) and Melly Still (director) have done a good job here. I do think though that finding a way to introduce Captain Corelli earlier into this production and some of the earlier background information being provided to us in a less graphic format would have allowed us to concentrate on the relationship between the Captain and Pelagia more and in doing so added more to the wonderful bitter-sweet ending that we have.
Review by Tom King