Thursday, 8 August 2019

INTERVIEW: Eve Polycarpou, currently in Captain Corelli's Mandolin at the Harold Pinter Theatre


Eve Polycarpou is currently in Captain Corelli's Mandolin at the Harold Pinter Theatre, playing the role of Drosoula. Her other credits include Abuela in Strictly Ballroom (Piccadilly Theatre West End, West Yorkshire Playhouse and Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto), Yiayia Agape in Sunset at Villa Thalia for The National Theatre, Abuela Claudia in In the Heights at Southwark Playhouse and King’s Cross Theatre, The title role in The Manchester Library Theatre's production of Brecht's Mother Courage, Nerhjas in Judith Thompson's award-winning Palace of the End (M.E.N. nomination for Best Actress) and Agave in The Bacchae, both at Royal Exchange Manchester and Chanson Performer in Jacques Brel is Alive and Well at Charing Cross Theatre.


You’re currently in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, tell us a bit about the piece.

It’s all set in the Second World War on the small Greek island of Cephalonia which has been occupied by the Italians first and then the Germans. The occupation has a huge impact obviously on all the islanders; their livelihood is affected, there’s a shortage of food, their families and relationships, the fact that they are invaded and then feel imprisoned in their own homes.

A young Italian Captain, Antonio Corelli, comes onto the island. He plays the mandolin and in spite of the horrors of war that he’s witnessed and indeed what we go on to see him witness, his music gives him life and hope and also touches the hearts of some of the islanders, somehow bridging the divide.

A young Greek woman, the doctor’s daughter, Pelagia, is already betrothed to a fisherman, Mandras, an islander, the son of feisty widow Drosula however Mandras has to serve in the army and on his return we see how he has been very badly traumatised. He’s not the man they all knew or even the young innocent boy that his mother knew before he left. Pelagia sees her childhood ‘sweetheart’ disappear and starts to fall in love with Captain Correlli.

Ultimately this story is all about love in its various forms and the effect the war has on it; romantic love, people coming from two opposing situations being captivated by each other and dreaming of a peaceful family life together and unrequited love. The love of a young man who wants to have an ordinary normal life, with his childhood love, but who has been badly affected by war and cannot express his love through fear of more pain and hurt. The love of two soldiers who would ‘die for each other’, whose love ‘dare not speak its name’. The love of a mother for her son as she wants the best and fears the worst for her child, her island and her home, then indeed suffers the ultimate loss. Yet through all her pain she still believes in love to survive, to live and to ‘carry on even if the world is destroyed’.

You’re playing Drosoula in the production, tell us a bit about her.

Drosoula is a passionate strong hardworking woman, a widow who wants the best for her son. Striving for affluence for her fisherman son, she works alongside him to have a good job a good wife and a good home. She loves her son, her only son and only child and has strived to teach him how to be the best in many ways. We see her struggle to make a better life for him, care for him after he’s been wounded, grow to love Pelagia for the healing she gives her son, Mandras, and finally we see a mother who survives through the ultimate of losses. In this particular version we also hear her sing, representing the voice of Cephalonia, which is like the existential side of herself. We hear her sing some covers, Greek songs, well known in this period. We also hear her sing pieces of music created by the inimitable Harry Blake, musical director and composer. We also hear her improvise and lament the biggest most painful grief of all.

The play has transferred into London, how does it feel to be able to bring this piece to the London audiences? 

It’s been an interesting tour in terms of the audience reaction in different cities. Some places find the humour in certain parts of the play and then a completely different response where not much seems to be found funny, but audiences have always been very moved. However, in London they seem to laugh at most parts and sometimes at a lot more parts than they have done. Also there has been even more of a cross culturally across the age crowd and one senses that some of the history is theirs too or on a parallel. Musically too I’ve heard from some of the audience how some of the Greek covers are reminiscent of their parents and grandparents and indeed if my mum and dad were still with us they’d be singing along from their seats.

This is also the first major stage production of the piece, how does it feel to be a part of that?

Indeed an honour more than anything else to be part of a company making history in many ways. First time Captain Corelli’s Mandolin has been staged, first time anything in the West End is telling a more modern Greek tale, first time we’re seeing non stereotypical Greek characters in a play. It’s a privilege to be working with such a hugely talented group of people. The creative team; Melly Still, our hands-on director who is so open to exploration, Rona Munro, who’s script allows us in to tell the story with her, Mayou Trikerioti, who’s incredible simple set and costume design transport us to the very core of Kefalonia the war, the sea and the village, George Sienna, movement and assistant director, together with Fay who’s choreography and simple staging create whole landscapes of storytelling and of course Harry Blake who’s music has joined the dots from the countries to the islands to the hearts of the characters. Along with our lighting and sound designers the creative collaboration has been so exciting to be part of as it’s grown and grown.

We recently interviewed Victoria Hamilton-Barritt and she spoke about the fond memories she had from working on In The Heights, did you have a similar experience?

In The Heights was one of the most exciting shows I’ve ever worked on, the music the dancing the cast. We started in Southwark and people were coming who’d not set foot inside a theatre. We were telling their story. It was the UK premiere, like Captain Correlli’s Mandolin, and unlike my brother (who has made a name for himself as a musical theatre actor) ‘Abuela Claudia’ became my first part in a musical theatre piece in the West End when we transferred to the Kings Cross Theatre. The cast, directed by Luke Sheppard and choreographed by Drew McOnie, were a phenomenal collection of multicultural talent and Victoria was a total inspiration to work alongside. Her dancing up and down scaffolding set at 8months pregnant was nail biting.

Your career has so much variety in it; from plays to musicals, radio and film and even as a singer/songwriter. What advice would you say to actors wanting to make the cross over to other mediums?

Listen to your heart. The more the merrier. Go for it all, give it all and only do it because you want to. It’s all connected somehow. One job feeds another. I’ve loved having opportunities to go from doing concerts and gigs to playing some of the most amazing roles I’ve ever had the good fortune to be offered.

You’ve travelled the world with your work, what would you say has been your favourite place you’ve travelled to with your work?

I’ve been fortunate enough to have travelled and worked in a number of countries from singing en-route on cruises around the Caribbean islands to British council tours in Syria and Cyprus and festival performances across Europe plus more recently doing a UK production of Strictly Ballroom on a revisit to Toronto. The Niagara Falls is one of the most exhilarating sights I have ever seen, indeed a wonder. However if I had to choose it would be performing on stage with Martha D Lewis in our female duo ‘Martha and Eve aka Donna & Kebab’ in Syria in front of a divided mixed audience, women in hijabs on one side, men on the other, from Damascus to Homs and Aleppo. The unforgettable memory of hearing them all sing with us in harmony on our final song as they lit their lighters above their heads, was truly one of the most moving moments of my career as a performer and visiting the city of Palmyra with its ancient writing on its stone some in Ancient Greek will stay forever. So sad to see this beautiful ancient city has now been desecrated and the towns in which we sang so badly bombed, a destruction of history, blessed to have been there.

With a CV to die for, looking back do you have any really special memories from any jobs that will stay with you forever?

Our time in Syria, most definitely. But also playing the part of ‘Nerhjas’ in Judith Thompson’s incredible tryptic of monologues, Palace of the End, post lifesaving surgery and subsequent radiotherapy. Greg Hersov at the Royal Exchange Manchester entrusted me with this 40 minute monologue and I shall never forget coming off stage after the first preview and collapsing into tears after getting through it ‘wow I’m alive and I’m here’. We went on to Galway Festival then Edinburgh Festival where the production won an amnesty international award for freedom of expression and I received a nomination from MEN for best actress.

In one sentence, why should people come to see the play.

It’s a play for today, full of integrity, a well-crafted well-acted well-staged and designed story of hope, love, loss and survival.

After this run of the show, do you have any plans?

A bloody good rest. A Greek island holiday, probably Cyprus. Then finally finish ‘For the Record’ an album of new material, with some of the amazing musicians and vocalists I’ve been fortunate enough to have performed with over the years, including Stephen D Fletcher, Martha D Lewis, Francesca Rogerson and Alwyne Taylor, to sing and sing!
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