Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

Reviewer’s Rating

This is definitely a play of two halves and one where – frankly – they are lucky I stayed past the interval to see what they were actually capable of. 

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was an extremely popular novel from 1994 – a different time indeed. Written about a love affair between an occupying Italian officer and a Greek native during the Second World War it explores the themes of love and loss across boundaries. At the time, the accidental fascist of Corelli (a musician who ended up in the army for financial reasons) wasn’t really questioned. Now I wonder if that’s something we should think more about. Why these supposed good people are fighting for such a reprehensible cause. But this wasn’t that play. Here the simple message is that war is hell and love conquers all (except perhaps male pride). 

The first half of the play is a disjointed mess. It sets up pre-occupation Cephalonia, the war, the family life of Pelagia (Clare) and her father the island doctor (Joseph Long). But only in the most part on a superficial level. We see Pelagia fall for first love Mandras (Ashley Gayle) but this too is portrayed in such a disjointed and superficial fashion that it is simply not believable that either of them is heartbroken when it doesn’t work out. Corelli doesn’t even arrive or really feature at all until the very end of the half. So at no point does it feel like the action is getting going.

There is also a huge problem with the staging. I’m a short woman, so never really complain when I can’t see parts of the action. But in this play, far too much of the action takes place with characters sitting or even lying on the floor. As I looked around the audience in the stalls with me, everyone was craning their necks awkwardly throughout. Too little thought had been put into the audience experience and it really showed. 

The second half was much better in terms of the action. This is where most of the play happens and as a result the action zips by much faster and the story has more depth and clarity. It is this half that has raised the rating of this play for me. The acting was moving, the music beautiful and the action much more engaging. 

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin takes far too long to get going. It has significant staging issues. That it works by the end is tribute to an impressive cast, but it takes far, far too long to get there.