dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
War-torn romance brought to the stage
Louis de Bernieres' novel Captain Corelli's Mandolin is an international best-seller which was made into a Hollywood hit. Now 25 years after publication, it comes to the stage in this adaptation currently playing at Birmingham's Repertory Theatre.
Captain Corelli's Mandolin tells the story of the people of the Greek island of Cephalonia which, during World War Two, was occupied by first the Italians and then the Germans. And within that s,cenario it tells the story of Pelagia whose love for Greek partisan Mandras is supplanted by a passion for the Italian Captain Corelli when the soldier occupies her family home.
De Bernieres' story is ambitious in scope with his book covering ideas around love, loyalty, friendship, family, politics, conflict and sacrifice. But it's too hefty in its full format to work into a stage production. By trying to keep so much of the original novel into the staging, Rona Munro's adaptation becomes over-long with far too many inconsequential sub-plots. The drama would have benefited from a stripping away of details so we could really focus on the love triangle at the core of the story.
Instead we're being pulled through Italian campaigns, Cephalonian history and fights between villagers. Directed by Melly Still, a concentration of the story would have made for a more emotionally intense and less rambling production where we genuinely felt the pain of the separation of true love rather that it simply being one episode in many.
Central to the cast is Pelagia who vacillates between love for two very different men. A victim of circumstances, she loses one man to war and then gains another because of that war. Madison Clare's Pelagia is bright and sometimes head-strong but definitely ruled by the heart rather than the head. When her initial disdain for Corelli turns to love she gives herself to the passion wholeheartedly.
Alex Mugnaioni's Corelli is keen to be liked by the family whose home he has invaded and tries to win Pelagia over to see his humanity beyond the soldier. As they plan together for a life after the war, neither have any concept of how the conflict will continue to pull them apart. Mugnaioni also handles the eponymous mandolin expertly with some beautiful music composed by Harry Blake.
Mandras, played by Ashley Gayle, is a man destroyed by that conflict. All his hopes and dreams are initially centred on Pelagia but he returns a different man after fighting the Italians. Unable to fit back into village life he returns to the partisans but believes he is fighting for Pelagia.
The set by Mayou Trikerioti needs to be multi-purpose for the complex story, taking us into the mountains of Greece, the seas, Pelagia's home and yard and other parts of Cephalonia while also picturing conflict and earthquake. By creating a huge reflective backdrop, she is able to project images from blood to the earth shattering onto the stage to take us through these different scenarios. And by paring down the elements she is able to recreate freezing landscapes and deep seas.
De Bernieres' novel breathes life into a moment in time with consequences for both nations and individuals. His characters are complex and take us with them on their journey so we too feel the hopes and then the losses which push them together and force them into separation. While this production tells the story it never quite tugs at the heart-strings.