Captain Corelli’s Mandolin @ King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

This stage adaption of Louis de Bernier's beloved novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is enjoyable, if a little underdeveloped

Live Review by Carmen Paddock | 24 Jun 2019
  •  Captain Corelli’s Mandolin @ King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

First a beloved novel, then a mediocre film, Louis de Berniere’s story of love, art and survival on a war-torn Grecian island has now hit the stage, touring the UK before beginning a West End run. This adaptation of Captain Corelli takes its time establishing the place, interpersonal relationships, and socio-political setting before allowing the latter to irrevocably shape Cephalonia and its inhabitants. While this exposition goes on ever-so-slightly too long, the luxuriation allows for immersion in its characters’ everyday existences, bringing a lesser-known World War II tragedy vividly to life. 

The second act is about half an hour longer than the first but moves at pace thanks to the audience’s familiarity with the stakes and circumstances. The downside is that the two acts almost feel like separate narratives: the first focuses closely on small daily moments while the second sweeps towards abstraction, covering its greater scope with musical interludes and dynamic ensemble pieces. 

These pieces, alongside the show’s visual design, are its strongest elements, evoking changes of scenery and tone with fluidity. Lighting changes deftly signify everything from sunsets to storms, tank invasions and midnight rendez-vous. The cast, while not large, double up their primary roles with those of soldiers, townsfolk, and – in a few delightful cases – animals. The result is an ever-changing, ever-moving atmosphere which contrasts the wartime unrest and violence with more intimate moments.

When acting as the principals, the performers (who, refreshingly, all keep their regional accents) are uniformly strong, though they sometimes lose all but the broadest character strokes in the face of the dynamic staging. This could also be the fault of the adaptation. While following the novel closely, it relies heavily on melodrama; elements of relationships occasionally feel forced and old-fashioned. While great ingenuity has been taken to visually translate the book to the stage, less time has been given to believably developing the relationships at its emotional core.  

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is comfortable viewing. The doomed wartime romance is predictable and the lack of engagement with individual soldiers’ connection to fascism veers between humanising and frustrating. That said, the evocative sense of time and place (in no small part due to its creative visuals) engrosses throughout its two-and-a-half hour run time.