BWW Review: CAPTAIN CORELLI'S MANDOLIN, Rose TheatreSelling millions of copies and adapted into a 2001 film, Louis de Bernières' epic wartime novel, Captain Corelli's Mandolin, is a literary tour de force. Now inventively, if not entirely faithfully, adapted for the stage by Rona Munro, it begins its new incarnation at the Rose Theatre.

Set on the Greek island of Cephalonia during the Second World War, Dr Iannis lives peacefully with his headstrong daughter Pelagia. When German and Italian troops are posted to the island, Pelagia is determined to hate them, but finds herself drawn to Antonio Corelli, a charismatic young Italian captain. With a threat to his life, Corelli returns to Italy, promising to return to Pelagia and marry her as soon as the war is over. However, the consequences of war are far-reaching and life does not turn out quite as expected.

Adapting a well-known and well-loved novel for the stage is always a challenge. The story itself is relatively simple, but de Bernières' book is sprawling and often whimsical. The main characters are Dr Iannis, Pelagia and Corelli, but the novel uses many different narrative voices and points of view. The bottom line is that there is far too much within the novel to be able to do it all justice in a few hours.

The main casualty of this adaptation is Captain Corelli himself, who does not appear as part of the story until just before the first act, and the development and impact of his relationship with Pelagia suffers somewhat. It is touching and convincing, but lacks the development and depth within the novel. This production leans more heavily on the characters and stories of soldier Carlo and fisherman Mandras.

Among a talented and very musical cast Luisa Guerreiro and Elizabeth Mary Williams are both excellent as Pelagia's goat and pine marten Psipsina. Ashley Gayle gives a very convincing vision of a shell-shocked soldier as Pelagia's first love Mandras and Eve Polycarpou is nicely grumpy and sings some truly heartfelt laments as his mother Drousoula.

Madison Clare is confident and outspoken as Pelagia. There is a nicely balanced synergy with her father Dr Iannis, played with smooth aplomb by Joseph Long.

Alex Mugnaioni as Captain Corelli is incredibly likeable and sensitive, but underused. His version of Corelli is more reflective of a stereotypical strait-laced British officer than an Italian one, but his mandolin playing is impressive and sets an emotional backdrop for the unfolding story.

This production is directed by Melly Still, who also directed the adaptation of Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend. Still's direction is vivid and very physical, with constant action whether it is in the chaotic village scenes or the harrowing battles of the war. There are some clever visual aspects, such as iridescent fish being thrown across the stage as though jumping through the waves.

Mayou Trikerioti's inventive set is conceptual, rather than realistic. Two huge sheets of crumpled metal act as the backdrop, serving as a visually striking base for Dom Baker's beautiful projections that range from the outline of the island to the rippling water and flowing blood of the victims of the war. The effect is immersive and uses the vast space of the Rose to great effect.

As a faithful adaptation of a much-loved book, this production does not quite hit the mark, but as a theatrical production, it is inventive, moving and bittersweet.

Captain Corelli's Mandolin is at the Rose Theatre until 12 May

Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

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From This Author Aliya Al-Hassan