If you’re going to adapt a book for the stage, especially one which has already been made in to a film, then it probably makes sense to choose one of the biggest best sellers in recent decades. That’s exactly what Rona Munro has done in this ambitious adaptation of Louis De Bernières’ Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, which arrives at London’s Harold Pinter Theatre following an extensive tour.
Fans of the original novel are often critical of the somewhat lacklustre movie adaptation, but it would be difficult for them to have similar concerns with this play, which seems intent on squeezing as much of the book as possible in to a chunky two hour and forty minute running time.
The problem with that is that there is so much going on, it’s difficult to really focus on any one aspect of the narrative. Where we want it to be a romance, the atrocities of war take over, and where we need to be shocked by the ferocity of battle, we are distracted by the romance of it all. Director, Melly Still makes the most of the heavy plot, by keeping the stage busy, then pulling back where impact is required.
The first act ticks along quite slowly, serving as an elongated prologue to the second half where the most interesting and crucial elements of the story take place. By then it’s a little too late, the mandolin playing title character doesn’t appear, in any real sense, until just before the interval so the window of opportunity for us to become invested in his relationship with Pelagia is somewhat diminished.
There are some strong performances from Alex Mugnaioni, playing the mandolin for real as Captain Corelli, while Madison Clare is powerfully resolute as Pelagia. Ryan Donaldson is emotionally stoic as Carlo, and Luisa Guerreiro finds herself stealing the limelight for most of the first hour playing a goat.
Though not a musical by any means, music does feature heavily in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. And it’s not just the mandolin playing either, there’s some impressive singing from various members of the cast, and it works well in showing how the Italian and Greek cultures blended on the island of Cephalonia during the occupation.
Mayou Trikerioti’s set design, which sees two large metal sheets resembling crumpled letters suspended above the stage, allows for Dom Bakers video design to create a superbly atmospheric feel. This is particularly prevalent when combined with Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting design during the warfare scenes.
Whilst this adaptation of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is certainly more faithful to Louis De Bernières’ original novel, it does feel overstuffed at times, with the nuances lost to a heavy plot. Not enough happens in the first act, leaving the second act seeming rushed, despite being longer in terms of running time. Even still, this is an enjoyable trip back to Cephalonia and the original story that so many people have fallen in love with.