Condensing Louis de Bernières’ bittersweet wartime romance for the stage, Rona Munro’s adaptation of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin never quite resonates. Though her stripped-down version retains an appropriately epic sweep, it nonetheless loses something of the book’s mosaic-like intricacy. In piecing its characters’ disparate dreams and desires together in a linear, functional plot, each wistful, emotive fragment feels diminished.
Director Melly Still loads the production with raw, ululating singing and balletic movements that look perfectly pretty during the plot’s more bucolic passages – a sequence in which the cast of Greek islanders and occupying Italian soldiers settle into a rhythm of look-the-other-way cooperation is one of the show’s highlights. But overwrought abstraction and some sloppy miming start to look deeply frivolous when depicting the atrocities of war.
Luisa Guerreiro and Elizabeth Mary Williams do consummate, scene-stealing work as a wild-eyed goat and languorous pine marten respectively, while, among the human protagonists, Ryan Donaldson conveys the grief and tenderness of gay soldier Carlo, surviving while the comrade he loves perishes. Madison Clare is brash and assured as astute doctor’s daughter Pelagia, while Alex Mugnaioni is disarmingly awkward as the sensitive Captain she falls in love with.
As history catches up with them, video projections see flame, blood, and ink spattered on to a huge panel of beaten copper, the centrepiece of Mayou Trikerioti’s uncluttered design. As pearlescent as an oyster shell, this backdrop remains a fixed point of beauty among the chaos of life, love and war.