Having recently completed a successful UK tour, Rona Munro’s adaptation of Louis De Bernières’ Captain Corelli’s Mandolin has opened at the Harold Pinter Theatre for nine weeks across the summer. First published in 1994 the WW2 epic romance novel was a visceral phenomenon, selling millions. The 2001 Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz movie, however, was a misfire that failed to lend credulity to the romance at the heart of the story, something that I’m not convinced this production has managed to combat completely, writes Rosie O’Connell.

Despite the impending doom of World War Two, the residents of the idyllic Greek island Cephelonia believe themselves too far from the inevitability of destruction. With dreams of becoming a doctor like her father, Pelagia (Madison Clare) falls into a whirlwind romance only for her fiancée to leave to serve in the Greek army as war begins. The dreamy island is soon occupied by Italian and German soldiers and the titular musical Corelli moves into Pelagia’s home.

Melly Still’s direction and Rona Munro’s adaptation combined have created a production that is heartfelt and whimsical at the same time. Madison Clare is fantastic as the fiery, headstrong proto-feminist Pelagia and is matched perfectly by her father, Dr Iannis’ nostalgic warmth, played by Joseph Long. Luisa Guerreiro and Elizabeth Mary Williams spend the majority of their evening as a goat and a pine marten respectively and their comic yet fluid incarnations of each animal are wonderful. 

The story here is far too full and sprawling to expect a realistic set but Mayou Trikerioti’s high hanging, enormous crumpled metal sheets create an abstract beauty that transforms from rippling Ionian Sea to the blood red remains of war. 

This is a hefty, ambitious book to adapt, and the two and a half hour run time, while impressive, all things considered is still just too long. The story being told is too big to contain and it seems that the main casualty of this is the eponymous Captain who only appears properly in the second half. While Alex Mugnaioni does a solid job with the material provided, giving a soulful and sweet performance, ultimately his relationship with Pelagia just doesn’t carry enough weight or poignancy to carry the narrative through to the end.

Harold Pinter Theatre, Panton Street, London, SW1Y 4DN until 31 August. Times: Monday – Saturday 7.30pm; Matinees – Thursday & Saturday 2.30pm. Admission: £15 – £80. Phone: 0844 871 7622.

www.atgtickets.com/venues/harold-pinter-theatre

Photos: Marc Brenner