Set against the backdrop of the Greek island of Cephalonia during the Second World War, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin promises to deliver ‘a universal love story’ based closely on the original novel. The set and the musical score are both striking in the best of ways. However, I felt that other parts of the show did not reach the same heights.
The giant sheets of copper that are constantly present on-stage were as visually interesting as they were versatile. Images and videos were projected onto them to create vivid atmospheres. From the frozen horrors of the war front to the idyllic peace of Cephalonia before it is touched by that same war, each scene was enhanced by the use of those copper sheets. It was a unique choice that I found brilliant.
In a similar vein, the tech for this show was absolutely superb. The scene when the German tanks appear and drain all the hope out of the Greeks was so chillingly well-created through clever tech use that I had shivers going up and down my spine all throughout. Smoke was also used well to make the battlefield seem even more confusing, chaotic and unreal. The battlefield scenes are, in a word, hauntingly real.
My big issue with the production is the way it plays with the audience’s sympathy. After initially leading Mandras (Ashley Gayle) to believe that she loves him and wants to get married when he returns from the war, Pelagia (Madison Clare) greets him so coldly that I couldn’t help but feel some contempt for her. The problem is not in the fact that the love between them faded on her end. Rather, it is the fact that she is so utterly indifferent to the awful ordeals he has faced just to be able to see her again that pits my sympathies in Mandras’ favor. Her lack of gratitude at having her lover come home alive becomes particularly aggravating when we consider that Carlo (Ryan Donaldson) has just lost the love of his life in the same war. Francesco (Fred Fergus) will never come home again, Carlos never had enough time with him – while Pelagia gets Mandras back, and does not care. I had a hard time connecting to her after this.
All of this said, I was impressed by the range of emotions on the stage. Often, in stories filled with tragedy, the happier moments are neglected. This is not so in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. There are scenes involving singing and dancing, and characters often have a chance to laugh together. This helped to give weight to the heavier scenes. In particular, Alex Mugnaioni’s Captain Antonio Corelli has a lot of charm, even in the sadder moments.
This production left me with some ambivalent feelings. On the one hand, I loved the tech, costumes, and much of the acting. On the other, the issues I detailed put a dent in my experience of the show as a whole.