Harold Pinter Theatre (venue)
10 July 2019 (released)
For those (mostly under 30’s) that didn’t read the best-selling novel (1994) by Louis de Berniere, or the subsequent film, it’s a Romeo and Juliet style story set on the Greek island of Cephalonia during the Second World War. Yet in this stage-adaptation by Rona Munro and directed by Melly Still, it’s the brutality of the war inflicted on such a small, island community rather than the romance, that packs the strongest punch.
Pelagia, lives with her father, the Island doctor who has brought her up on a diet of free-thinking and medical expertise unlike most of the local women. She is betrothed to islander Mandras who sets of to prove himself worthy of her by signing up to fight. When Italian soldier, Captain Correli arrives to occupy the island with his troops and his beloved Mandolin, Pelagia falls for a man she knows she shouldn’t love.
Adapting a novel for the stage is always going to be a challenge with it’s wordy, winding narrative form and ability to go inside the characters heads. It’s particularly complex to adapt a novel that stretches over fifty years and is set in dramatically varied natural landscapes. There’s also the small matter of World War II, an earthquake and a significant goat. Perhaps in response to this challenge, director Melly Still and designer Mayou Trikerioti have opted for a simple design, with an abstract metallic sheet as a backdrop so it falls to the cast to use music, movement and comedy to cohere the many scenes that make up this epic tale.
There are some lovely touches of invention, such as the soldiers ‘frozen’ in the mountains and most of the dramatic and design ‘problems’ are resolved (animals are played by humans, when a bomb goes off the cast jump backwards onto their soft rucksacks) but it lacked a certain magic as did the dialogue which reduced to it’s bare bones, felt cliché’d at times. For me the beauty of Cephalonia, though spoken about a great deal, never really came to life. Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by exceptional visual innovation in the West End.
I expect we’ll be seeing a lot more of Madison Clare who takes the lead as Pelagia. She has a relaxed physicality with and effortless presence that draws you imperceptibly in. Other notable performances include Eve Polycarpou playing the irrepressible Drosoula, a mother of all mothers. The ensemble cast are unwavering in their commitment to this epic drama and this is a real opportunity to such a popular novel brought to life with no tricks but good, honest stage-craft.