Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Rona Munro based on the novel by Louis de Bernieres. Harold Pinter Theatre, London SW1 Y to 31 August. 2**. William Russell

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
By Rona Munro
Based on the novel by Louis de Bernieres.
Harold Pinter Theatre, 4 Panton Street, London SW1Y 4SW to 31 August 2019.
Mon – Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 40 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 871 7622.
Review: William Russell 10 July.
Big fat book becomes big fat dull play.

Louis de Bernieres’ 1994novel was one of those good read books people take on holiday. It was packed with lots of history about the occupation of Greece during the last war – it set on the island of Cephalonia where first the Italians come, then the Germans, and the natives get ill treated – and includes lots of philosophical musings, dollops of history, some magic realism and a love affair apparently doom to failure. In other words a book some people love, others read, enjoy at the time and never go back to it.
The problem is, as with most novels, that although the story is incident packed it is not the stuff of drama and Rona Munro has come up with a turgid tale which has several false endings and goes on way past its sell by date. Director Melly Still does her best, the cast work very hard, and there is nothing much wrong with any of the performances within the limits of the play. But just why this touring production has been brought in to the West End for the summer is a mystery, although when reviewed as a touring show it gained quite a few plaudits.
The evening relies for its appeal on memories of the book. There was a movie starring Nicolas Cage, badly miscast Captain Corelli, and Penelope Cruz relying on her looks as Pelagia, the islander he loves. But it has been consigned to the dustbin of movies nobody was impressed with then and even fewer are now. The play is little better. But where the scenario of the movie changed things a lot Munro seems to plod pretty resolutely through from beginning to end. There is a pine marten which frolics about still, and a goat which is a family pet, a self willed heroine, who wants to be a doctor like her Dad, a handsome fisherman turned partisan who loves her and a romantic Italian officer – Corelli – who does so too. One problem is Corelli does not appear for a very long time and Act One is devoted to setting up the islanders of Cephalonia as jolly Greeks straight out of Mama Mia, with much attention played to the wooing of Pelagic, daughter of the local doctor, by Madras, a handsome but illiterate fisherman, before war destroys this island Eden.
Still keeps things moving, the large cast perform miracles changing from loveable and not so loveable peasants into rather nice Italians and much less nice Germans in a flash, and the movement director George Siena deserves congratulation. But when the standout performance of the night is given by Luisa Guerreiro as the goat – she ends up in the Italian soldiers’ cooking pot when times get tough – you know things are not going to plan. Madison Clare is nicely tough as the indomitable Pelagia, Alex Mugnaioni is a lean and handsome captain and seems to be able to play the mandolin, and Ashley Gayle has a physique to die for as the illiterate fisherman. There is also nice work from Eve Polycarpou as his mother, the one member of the cast who just might come from a Greek island, and great at singing songs of impassioned grief, and Joseph Long as the doctor, DD who gets to narrate chunks of the tale and comment pointlessly on past times when other nations fought over the island.
There is a clever simple set by Mayou Trikerioti which springs a few surprises, even managing to do a rather impressive earthquake, and Greek island charm, garlanded with chinks of history, is laid on with a trowel, but what the evening lacks is a couple of thunderbolts from Olympus to settle the hash of the lot of them.

Pelagia: Madison Clare.
Office/Soldier/islander: Graeme Dalling.
Carlo: Ryan Donaldson.
Francesco.soldier: Fred Fergus.
Mandras: Ashley Gayle.
Priest/soldier/islander: Eliot Giuralarocca.
Goat/soldier/islander: Luisa Guerreiro.
Lemoni/young Iannis/soldier: Kezrena James.
Dr Iannis: Joseph Long.
Captain Corelli: Alex Mugnaioni.
Drosoula: Eve Polycarpou.
Soldier/islander: John Sandeman.
Velisarios.soldier: Stewart Scudamore.
Gunter/soldier/islander: Kate Spencer.
Psipsina/soldier/islander: Elizabeth Mary Williams.
Director: Melly Still.
Composer: Harry Blake/
Set & Costume Designer: Mayou Trikerioti.
Lighting Designer: Malcolm Rippeth.
Sound Designer: John Nicholls.
Projections Designer: Dom Baker for OD Vision.
Movement Director: George Siena.
Fight Director: John Sandeman.
Production Photographs: Marc Brenner.

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