Captain Corelli’s Mandolin at Harold Pinter Theatre
Adapting novels for the stage is inherently difficult. It varies, of course, depending on the length of the book, the complexity of its themes and the number of different occurrences during the plot. Here we have a comparatively long work with lots of build-up, several battle scenes, complex relationships and action which takes place over the course of a long time. This was largely the cause of the downfall of the 2001 movie adaption – and it certainly takes its toll on this play, as well.
It’s a great pity, since both writer Rona Munro and director Melly Still obviously have a great love for the source material. Almost every important detail is included, and the production is beautifully staged with a powerful set design by Mayou Trikerioti, atmospheric lighting by Malcolm Rippeth and a gorgeous cast. This is an always faithful, often moving and sometimes profound adaptation of the beloved novel from 1994. But it’s just too darn long, it’s too slow and it tries to cram too much in at once.
As a result of this, the protagonist Captain Corelli (Alex Mugnaioni) doesn’t even make an appearance until the final moments of the first half; everything before the interval marks little more than a setup for the second half. The pacing is inconsistent, with some moments feeling rushed and others dragged out. An abridged, more dexterously handled version would be absolutely fantastic, because a lot of the material is brilliant – such as when the soldiers freeze to death in the mountains, here represented by a white web entangling the victims of war.
Other production choices, on the other hand, are curious and distract from the action rather than offering genuine comedic relief. Does the audience really have to witness Dr Iannis, played by a very strong and warm Joseph Long, relieving himself multiple times on the herb bushes? Luisa Guerreiro’s impression of a goat may be impressively accurate, but it quickly outstays its welcome.
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin has a very strong premise and much could have been done with it, but the script needs heavy editing before this becomes consistently high-quality theatre. As it is, the show is still successful enough, with some moments of excellence and an engaging story throughout – at least for an audience with a tremendous amount of patience.
Photo: Marc Brenner
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is at Harold Pinter Theatre from 4th July until 31st August 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.