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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Captain Corelli's Mandolin
Harold Pinter Theatre    Summer 2019

This adaptation by Rona Munro of Louis De Bernieres's popular wartime romance novel faces and doesn't fully conquer real difficulties in conversion from fiction to drama.

While evocative staging effects capture some of the book's spirit, the sprawling plot seems overly artificial and manipulated when condensed into two hours, and even major characters are barely sketched in.

On a peaceful Greek island in 1941 spirited and ambitious Pelagia is engaged to a local fisherman when the Italians invade and he goes off to war. Thought dead, he returns badly wounded, only to depart again once well to fight with the Partisans.

Meanwhile the occupying Italian army brings an ordinary soldier and the music-loving Captain, both of whom fall in love with Pelagia, the soldier gracefully retiring when it is clear that the officer's gentleness and music have won her over.

When the Germans turn against the Italians both men are killed, just as the fisherman returns and is also killed.

Three or four decades later one of the trio proves to be still alive and returns yet again to pick up where he left off.

In between, the novel offers ruminations on history, tradition, love and honour that can only be presented as awkwardly shoehorned-in passing comments in the play.

Where the play is at its best is in evoking the sense of a peaceful and tradition-rich community surviving disruption. Figures like the town doctor and a grieving old woman may be a little too obviously half-symbolic archetypes, but in the shorthand of drama they serve their function well.

Director Melly Still makes bold and effective decisions like having actors play the family goat and cat, communicating the human intimacy with the world of nature, and delicately choreographed semi-dance sequences sustain the atmosphere while indicating the passage of time.

But the coming and going of the men becomes repetitive to the point of being almost comic, as there are simply a few too many times someone thought dead re-appears alive.

The fisherman is gone for too much of the story for his return to seem more than a plot contrivance, while Captain Corelli is just too nice, too gentlemanly and too seductively musical. The third man – the Italian soldier – is reduced to hovering around the edges of the narrative, never fully integrated into the world of the play.

And when the action jumps to thirty or forty years later, neither the woman nor the once-more-resurrected man has visibly aged, and her reasonable annoyance at his keeping his survival secret is too easily overcome.

Madison Clare makes Pelagia an attractively strong woman, while Alex Mugnaioni works hard to communicate Corelli's charm. Joseph Long and Eva Polycarpou help create and sustain the atmosphere of the island community, and Luisa Guerreiro makes a droll and attitude-filled goat.

As is almost inevitable with novel adaptations to the stage, those who know the original will have the most successful experience, mentally and emotionally filling in the play's gaps. The rest will be too aware that they are watching a plot summary whose structure and internal rhythms don't translate comfortably to the stage.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Harold Pinter Theatre 2019
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