Review - Captain Corelli's Mandolin (Harold Pinter Theatre)

This summer, if you're not planning a holiday abroad then why not immerse yourself in the stage adaptation of Rona Munro’s adaptation of Louis de Bernières’s classic 1994 poolside read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, which has transferred to the West End after a well received UK tour. 

Alex Mugnaioni and Madison Clare in Captain Corelli's Mandolin
Photo credit - Marc Brenner
The emotionally charged story, set in idyllic Cephalonia during the Italian and German Occupation, sees a cheery Italian army captain with a love for music form an uneasy bond with headstrong and understandably hostile local woman. In spite of the forces threaten their budding romance, the pair find solace in each other’s company, not knowing what the audience gets a sense of from the play’s very beginning; that their time together is limited, and that eventually fate will tear them apart.

Director Melly Still has created a soft focused, halcyon world for the characters to inhabit, which feels almost dreamlike in contrast to the chaos and violence of the war which threatens to encroach them. Tranquil lighting, set design and sound elements create a beautifully serene atmosphere, which washes over the production in waves.

The cast of Captain Corelli's Mandolin
Photo credit - Marc Brenner
Yes, aesthetically Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is quite beautiful, and the cast of actor-musicians tasked with bringing the tale to life is uniformly excellent. However, where the production falters is in its pacing. With so much content provided by the source material, the play feels fragmented and unfocussed at times. In fact, the titular character doesn’t even appear until the curtain is ready to come down on act one. Much of the time spent before the interval focuses on Pelagia’s small-town life and how she dreams of greater things for herself, all which being courted by the ill-fated local Mandras.

Starkly interspersing Pelagia’s relatively carefree days, are the harsh wartime memories of Italian soldier Carlo and his close friend turned lover Francesco, the former of which is stationed alongside Captain Corelli in act 2.

Alex Mugnaioni and the cast of Captain Corelli's Mandolin
Photo credit - Marc Brenner
Both storylines offer useful insights into the life of ordinary people during the war, but feel long winded and slightly aimless. Not to mention that by shunting the relationship of Captain Corelli and Pelagia to act 2, there is significantly less time to solidify the bond between them. Actors Alex Mugnaioni and Madison Clare give touching performances, and their chemistry is completely tangible, but what should be a slow burning journey from hate to adoration feels far too rushed.

Nevertheless, when the full force of the war arrives on the shores of Cephalonia, the play switches gears and becomes surprisingly brutal and engrossing. The aftermath is equally emotionally exhausting, as the survivors come to terms with the agony they have lived through, and try their best to move on.

The play's languorous first act may tread water for a bit too long, but there are moments of beauty, horror, romance, and terror throughout which totally mesmerise.

I was invited to review Captain Corelli's Mandolin thanks to London Box Office