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Review: Captain Corelli's Mandolin (Rose Theatre, Kingston)

Louis de Bernières' classic novel is adapted for the stage by Rona Munro

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
(centre) Alex Mugnaioni as Captain Corelli and Elizabeth Mary Williams as Psipsina in Captain Corelli's Mandolin
© Marc Brenner

It's tricky to adapt a novel which spans over fifty years and includes many internal thoughts and lengthy descriptions into a show. Adaptor Rona Munro and director Melly Still have been tasked with just this with Captain Corelli's Mandolin, which is based on Louis de Bernières book. The result is a quirky, if sometimes sluggish, production.

At the start of World War Two, as Greece enters the conflict, the Greek town of Cephalonia is turned upside down. Soldiers are being killed and food is scarce but there are plenty of love stories growing. These include between two soldiers, and a Greek doctor's daughter, Pelagia, who falls in love with Italian soldier-stroke-musician Captain Antonio Corelli.

Though Munro's production starts off slow in act one with some predictable dialogue, the show grows into its own in act two when relationships between the Italians and Greeks – destined enemies – are questioned and foes begin to become friends. In a piece which could dwell on the tragic or romantic, Still's direction allows for many comedic moments to shine through, including Luisa Guerreiro playing a wide-eyed and affectionate goat, and Kezrena James delivering snarky one-liners as young Lemoni.

Taking centre stage is designer Mayou Trikerioti's copper-coloured structure which appears to take the form of a crumpled letter. Throughout the show chalk drawings, gun shots, and blood stains are projected onto it in Dom Baker's video. Other quirky design elements include long tangled strings for bushes which the protagonists meander through, or white gauzes stretched over faces; a manifestation of a soldier's PTSD.

Despite these strong design elements and consistent performances throughout, it's a shame that this show feels like a predictable war story, and not really like the love story we're initially promised. The woman is left waiting for her soldier love to come home for years on end, while he's afforded the luxury to become famous and pursue all of his wildest dreams. There's a small section in the first act in which two soldiers become romantically involved, and I couldn't help feeling that more focus on this story in the stage adaptation would make for more interesting territory.

Underscored with composer Harry Blake's beautiful mandolin melodies (and a dash of The Cardigans), Captain Corelli's Mandolin would satisfy any desire for watching epic stories on a smaller scale. But ultimately, this adaptation doesn't bring anything new to a story told many times before.