Of war and love

 

History is full of moments in time. Literary history too. You can always tell by the ubiquity of a book on buses and trains. Think Satanic Verses, White Teeth and back in 1994 the vivid blue cover of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (Rose Theatre, Kingston) seemed to be everywhere, the de rigueur read of the literati. Louis de Bernières’ sprawling odyssean like epic set on the island of Cephalonia, spans over half a century of history including the island’s occupation during World War II. Large parts of it, apart from the bittersweet romance between young peasant woman Pelagia (Madison Clare) and the eponymous occupying Italian captain (Alex Mugnaioni) who is a dab hand on the mandolin, read like an idle afternoon’s contemplation while sipping wine and listening to the gentle waves of the cerulean waters.

Doctor Iannis (Joseph Long) is living a nice life with his daughter, independent Pelagia, happy with himself and his surroundings, so much so that he regularly pees into the potted herbs. Poetry and contemplation fill his free time, then the Italians and Germans arrive. Local fisherman Mandras (Ashley Gayle) has fallen for Pelagia hook, line and sinker but is drawn by patriotic fervour to join the Greek army. Meanwhile Italian soldier Carlo (Ryan Donaldson) finds in battle there is love and that fuels his passion and resistance to war throughout. The man he loves dies in his arms. Though most remember the book for romance it is the horror and futility of war and the havoc it wreaks on lives that underpins everything.

The film adaptation was universally acknowledged as a disaster so Rona Munro had her work cut out. Undaunted by the task, she hadn’t read the book when asked so went for a collaborative approach – workshopping with the cast and creatives – in order to distil the “huge and complex narrative”. To her credit she has produced a witty and evocative script which captures the essence of Greek life, lots of sizidissi, goutsoumbolia k’erota, debate, gossip and love. Director Melly Still has translated all of that into a poignant and atmospheric production that ebbs and flows throughout and although it slightly loses its dramatic impact in the final fifteen minutes it leaves you with a glow as warm as the Greek summer sun.

That glow is due in large part to Mayou Trikerioti’s simple and wonderfully conceptual set design. A large misshapen and cragged metallic screen, which hangs over the action throughout, provides a landing base for an incredible array of beguiling projections by Dom Power which capture so much of what de Bernière describes in the book. The outline of the island soon becomes rolling waves but it is when they highlight the horrors of war that the effect is visceral and emotive. Bombings, machine gun fire, rivers of blood, a blinding white light for the deathly deed of a firing squad and even the catastrophe of the 1953 earthquake quake are so incredibly depicted that they rock you to the core.

Those sounds and the other short passages of the production that solely use movement and music – this includes excellent mandolin playing by Mugnaioni – are beautifully executed providing the play with a symbolic beating heart. The encapsulation of this is the role of Drosoula (Eve Polycarpou), mother of Mandras. She provides a musical backdrop of soul and authenticity, singing plaintively as she sits and muses while during the more tragic moments her wailing echoes around the auditorium like a mournful Greek chorus.

The ensemble of fifteen actors and singers are a talented bunch who blend very well together and you will be charmed by the constantly masticating goat with vacant eyes, a performance of caprine brilliance by Luisa Guerreiro. Finally the book has an adaptation and production that does artistic justice to the creativity of de Bernières. Bravo.

 

On tour – www.captaincorellismandolin.com

 

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