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Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (Susan Elkin reviews)

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – ★★★
Based on the novel by Louis de Bernieres, adapted by Rona Munro. Presented by Neil Laidlaw, Church & State Productions, Rose Theatre Kingston and Birmingham Repertory Theatre
performance date: 10 Jul 2019
venue: Harold Pinter Theatre, 6 Panton Street, London SW1Y 4DN

Photography by Marc Brenner


Good as the best selling novel (by Louis de Bernieres) that this show is based on is, it is off-puttingly slow to get going. Melly Still’s production has the same problem. Theatre needs immediate impact and this show lacks it. The first half feels a lot longer than an hour and the whole piece is lengthily drawn out.

The story telling needs to be clearer too. Famously, it’s a second world war love story about a doctor’s daughter on a remote island and a musical Italian Captain, part of an invading army, who is billeted in their house. The background politics are complicated, messy and appalling for the Greeks but this interpretation struggles to demonstrate with clarity just who is fighting whom and where and why.

But there are some delightful things here too. Mayou Trikerioti’s set is magnificent. The stage is dominated by what appears to be two overlapping giant squares of crumpled tin foil. This then becomes a projection screen during conflict scenes – lots of loud flashes – and with Malcolm Rippeth’s evocative lighting it coveys the beauty of Greece in all its moods.

The music is well used too. It’s a play that abounds in music rather than a musical. Alex Mugnaioni is a convincing and suitably charismatic mandolin player and the male ensemble sing several opera numbers enjoyably as the army choir formed by the eponymous captain.

I liked Madison Clare’s work as feisty Pelagia who knows almost as much medicine as her father and scoots about the stage with lots of presence. She has a rather attractive gravelly catch in her voice which might irritate some but it reminds me of the young Judi Dench. Joseph Long is strong as the irascible but kindly doctor and Eve Polycarpou has gravitas, humour and a rich singing voices as Pelagia’s would-be mother-in-law who delivers some lovely traditional-style laments.

There is also an outstanding performance from Luisa Guerreiro as Pelgia’s goat. She is Cirque du Soleil trained and it shows as she uses all her physical theatre skills to convey a totally believable caprine personality. She chews, bleats, freezes, whizzes about on foreleg stilts and, delightfully, keeps nicking things like pieces of paper.

 First published by Sardines:
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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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