LOUIS de Bernières’s novel of ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ is of course a much loved, worldwide best seller – spinning as it does its Romeo and Juliet theme of forbidden love and set amongst the carnage of war and the desolation dispatched in its wake. Add to that famine and earthquake and you’re left with a monumental challenge to bring this colossus from text to stage.
Director Melly Still’s production is an admirable, almost titanic attempt to do just that. Every form of theatre is incorporated here from the physical, through the musical to (I love this word) anthropomorphism. Basically that is humans becoming animals but retaining human emotions and we all know the old adage of never working with children and animals don’t we – so here we have a heart and scene-stealing all-seeing pet goat played outrageously realistically by Luisa Guerreiro.
Despite the massive human body count, it is the goat the biggest ‘ahhh’ of the night when she is whisked off to the cooking pot by some starving Italian soldiers.
Equally designer Mayou Trikerioti gives us the beauty of the Greek island of Cephalonia and the tragedy of its near destruction via a similar multi layered approach.
A simple step ladder becomes a multitude of architecture (a nod to the iconic Thornton Wilder’s ‘Our Town’) to a complex hanging foil structure which becomes a moving sea, sun baked mountains, battlefields, explosions, rumbling Panzer tanks, and even at one point the epicentre of an earthquake.
Joseph Long is a strong lynch pin as Dr Iannis . It is through his eyes we are introduced to the wonders of what nature offers us on this idyllic island and share his disdain at how appallingly we treat it and each other.
From his first entrance as a cannon-firing-showman come revolutionary, Stuart Scudamore charismatically leaps across the curtain line at us as the colourful opportunist Velisarios.
Madison Clare has a huge job to do as Pelagia – the woman who loses her heart to the charms of the occupying army Captain – her performance grew from somewhat lacking in presence and audibility in act one to sparkling in act two.
Alex Mugnaioni is a long time coming into the story as Captain Corelli but it is worth the wait – he is just perfect in the role and as a bonus he actually plays a mean mandolin.
Elizabeth Mary Williams gives us another anthropomorphist triumph as Psipsina the all-seeing cat.
The fight direction by John Sandeman is some of the best I’ve witnessed – there is lots of it too as one occupying force is forced out by the next. One particular scene where a group of soldiers are blown high into the air and land on their backs is simply stunning.
Composer Harry Blake adds music that is at one with both concept and atmosphere, as does the very good cast choral work.
In truth there were some teething problems on the first night – like a new car the show needs to run in for a few nights before it reaches its apex but all the signs are there that this will be another epic to notch up in this impressive REP season.
Certainly left me wanting to go back and see it again before the end of the run and also to visit that beautiful island to see it for myself.
The show runs at the Rep until June 15.
Review by Euan Rose.