The epic sweeping love story set on a Greek island is a book many are familiar with. Louis de Berniéres’ novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin captured the hearts of many back in 1994 as it tells the story of a wartime romance.
Rona Munro’s adaptation draws on the themes of love and war and Director Melly Still injects this with remarkable theatricality. The integration of music to underscore the story, composed by Harry Blake, is one of the reasons this story belongs on the stage as it creates an ambience you’ll only ever have in live theatre. However, despite the strong theatricality, the huge plot can distract from the audience forming strong connections as so many stories are told on stage.
It’s the start of World War Two and the Greek town of Cephalonia is invaded as Greece enters the conflict. We see the people of this town’s lives turned upside down, yet beneath it all we are introduced to multiple love stories that form through the tragedy. There is a love story between two soldiers that blossoms in the midst of the war, and a young woman who is in love with a charismatic man Mandras in Cephalonia. When he leaves for war, Italian soldier Captain Corelli comes to stay and despite their differences they fall for each other.
It’s a complex plot and we meet a lot of characters so if it’s not a story you’re familiar with it’s worth familiarising yourself with the context. We travel through the 1930s and 1940s meeting many people along the way. Some are soldiers fighting in battle, others are villagers in Cephalonia and with the multi-rolling it takes a little time to get to grips with. However, Melly Still’s direction is clever as she tells the story is a simple yet precise way.
Designer Mayou Trikerioti has created a simplistic set that oozes style. The clever use of striking projection transitions the story into different areas such as the village life of Cephalonia to the front-line of the battlefield. Alongside the use of sound effects, we are transported right into the beating heart of this story.
Madison Clare plays the girl next door Pelagia, the daughter of the doctor in Cephalonia who dreams of becoming a surgeon one day. She’s feisty and genuine and her big dreams to defy gender stereotypes is refreshing to see in a story set back in time. Clare is superb at capturing the fearless side of the character as she doesn’t conform to the usual romantic female stereotype. She makes the men in her life earn their place in her heart and she’s a compelling character to follow through the story.
We see the different types of love such as maternal and paternal love, romance and friendship. The most convincing love story is the beautiful relationship formed between soldiers Carlo and Francesco. Ryan Donaldson performs the role of Carlo in a poignant and tender way, their story is moving to follow within the show. Also the maternal love between Drosoula played by Eve Polycarpou and her son Mandras really does tug on the heart strings.
Having not read the book, I can only assume it’s a hugely convoluted story and the stage adaptation does well at portraying that despite at times being quite complicated. However, the themes are well executed and it’s a highly atmospheric production. It’s a lot darker than I expected and the filmic style had me perplexed at the start but I soon settled into it.
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin boasts fine theatricality in a production that captures the complexities of love in all its forms.
On at the Birmingham Rep until Saturday the 15th of June, tickets and information can be found on their website.