Thursday, 11 July 2019

REVIEW: Captain Corelli’s Mandolin at the Harold Pinter Theatre

Rona Munro as adapter and Melly Still as Director have taken on the impossible challenge of bringing Louis de Bernieres's 1994 novel (which runs to over 500 pages divided over 70 chapters) to the stage. It tells a story over fifty years of life on the Greek island of Cephalonia and the impact of the German and Italian invasions of the island during the Second World War. The resulting production is an extraordinarily creative mixture of narrative storytelling, balletic choreography, moving performances and exquisite lighting and projections. It takes it time in telling the episodic story, at times much too slowly, in the two hours twenty minutes running time (plus interval) but it is very successful in creating the period feel of Greece.

The story focuses on Dr Iannis (a perfectly judged performance by Joseph Long) , his daughter Pelagia (the delightful Madison Clare), her love for first the young Greek fisherman Mandras (a powerful Ashley Gayle) and then the music loving Italian Captain (the quietly unassuming Alex Mugnaioni) against the background of first the Italian invasion and then the brutal German occupation. The ensemble cast of 15 create the pre-war life on the island, the Italian army drawing the Greeks into the war, the island invasion and occupation and post war earthquake with dramatic simplicity. Oddly the eponymous Captain does not really appear until the end of the first act and until then the story is told mainly through the eyes of another Italian soldier Carlo (a delicate performance from Ryan Donaldson) and his bromance with another soldier, Francesco (Fred Fergus). 

The stage design by Mayou Trickerioti is minimalist and dominated by two large sheets of crumpled metal hung centre stage on which projections and lights create the shimmering sea reflection, chalk drawings, the explosive impact of the earthquake and simply set the atmosphere of each scene. On the Harold Pinter stage it is almost too large and fitted more comfortably the wider Rose stage in Kingston where I first saw it. When they hide in the underground cellar it is cleverly evoked by a single box. The cold winter and branches of the landscape are effectively created by material or ropes strung across the stage by the actors. The scenes of fishing and snail hunting are brilliantly staged with the simplest of effects. It is all imaginatively and elegantly portrayed and scenes flow from one to another with ease. 

While we emotionally engage with the Doctor, his daughter and her two loves many of the early scenes are stolen by the pet goat, brilliantly played by Luisa Guerreiro and the rescued Pine Marten (Elizabeth Mary Williams ) who without animal costumes grab our attention even when not centre stage, and play pivotal roles in bringing Pelagia and the Captain together . Both are experienced physical comedy and circus performers and it shines through their performances and movement.

Another evocative and strong influence on the production is Eve Polycarpou as Drosoula, the mother of Mandras who creates the picture-perfect image of a Greek Mama fussing and lamenting over her son. Each of these carefully created characters is blended together to create the feel of the island and period which with the snatches of opera, mandolin playing, and an excellent atmospheric
soundtrack paint the picture against which the love story and horrors of war are played out.

This production arrives in the West End after a regional tour. I am surprised it has not speeded up a little as with 15 minutes less it would be a perfect production. Nevertheless, it is an emotionally engaging, visually stunning and totally absorbing adaption with a faultless ensemble cast. 

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Stalls row M | Price of ticket: £65
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