When my illustrious actress friend, Eve Polycarpou invited me to see her star in the West End production of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, I re-jigged childcare, deadlines and a food shop delivery (!) so I could be there.
A theatre visit is always at the top of the wish list but it’s something I’m not able to indulge in enough due to to clashing bedtime routines with curtain calls, and the parental duties of two kids under ten which tend to scupper having a social life, at night anyway.
On the flip side, the times I do actually get out of the door on an evening feel all the more sweeter for it, and no more so than last week when along with my wonderful thespian friend, Kelly Juvilee for company, I experienced a night of soul food at the Harold Pinter Theatre that was worth every minute of the lost sleep which followed (a 1am home time and early start on This Morning the next day).
Kelly and I posing for the camera as per ;)!
I’m truly elated that I made the show before its end in just over 2 weeks (REVIEW SPOILER: BOOK IMMEDIATELY OR LIVE TO REGRET IT), as it’s as moving as it is mesmerising and makes up for the abysmal film adaptation of 2001, obliterating all memory of Nicholas Cage’s cringey Captain, and more so, touched me on a cellular level as it reconnected me with my Greek roots, triggering many a childhood memory to boot.
Even chatting to darling Eve backstage in her dressing room took me back to being around my late and much loved Greek family, my young late aunt Zak and my equally fierce and courageous yiayias (grandmas) Annetta and Vikentia, both hard working, strong, smart and most importantly steely in the face of adversity.
Eve is a gifted raconteur with the kindest of eyes, and our time together after the show, coupled with her embodiment of impassioned matriarch, Drasoula, helped me to reflect on the long line of brave women who came before me.
She also makes me laugh like a drain.
In all honesty, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin made such an impression on me, it’s hard to do the emotion conjured, justice, so I’ll just keep on waffling and I thank you for still reading!!!!
As I explained to Oliver, 9, the following day, the experience was akin to the most memorable scene in this family’s beloved movie, Ratatouille, where restaurant critic Anton tastes Ratatouille’s food in his new restaurant and as he taste the food on his folk, the scene flashes back to his childhood and his mother’s cooking. The noise, tastes and feeling the dish embodied.
That’s what Captain Corelli’s Mandolin felt like for me.
In those 2 hours and 40 minutes (why FYI, fly by), I felt as if I’d time-travelled. To traditional rose petal ice cream in my grandma Annetta’s kitchen in Manchester to the stories I was told about my Grandma Vikentia protecting her village in the mountains, opposing occupiers, all 4 foot of her, gun in hand as she challenged those threatening to seize her land.
The traditional Greek folklore style score in the play, influenced by my fellow British Greek Cypriot, Eve, and even featured lullabies I was sung as a child, imbued the piece with the most precious ingredient in the elevating good theatre to great theatre: authenticity.
Even the bleating goat by gifted Luisa Guerreiro (which almost stole the show) returned me to mountainous terrain in Cyprus, and the many goats I spent holidays as child marvelling at.
Dr Iannis (played pitch-perfectly by Joseph Long) mirrored (to me) my father, George, who to this day links Greeks to most things from birthing civilisation to tins of baked beans (and you thought My Big Fat Greek Wedding was hyperbolic)- and in all the drama, I almost forgot how rare these characters and stories are and how vital we need to keep seeing them on stage and screen.
Case in point: this is the first time Louis de Bernières’s 1994 bestseller has been adapted for the stage with some asserting the fact the lovers spend so much of the play apart might make visualising the narrative harder-yet, here, it works.
Hats off to writer Rona Munro who adapted the book for the stage, and director Melly Still whose vision enthralled.
The first act sets the scene of untouched Cephalonia with its sandy coves and perfect skies, who, rather like protagonist, Pelagia, has endless potential. Pelagia possesses big dreams on this small island and hopes to follow in her father’s footsteps to become a doctor, and surgeon. First would come marriage as it always did back then and she initially forges an ill-matched romance with local illiterate boy, Madras who quickly disbands for the rocky seas and war. When Italian invaders arrive on the island and Madras is lost at sea, Pelagia falls deeply in love with the sensitive and musically-gifted, Captain Corelli, a man who is everything Mandras is not.
War destroys both their relationship and her dreams of higher education. While she saves the lives of many injured on the island when her father is killed, time essentially stands still for her for most of the play. She waits and waits for those she loves and her life to start.
She ends up unmarried and unqualified while Captain Corelli finds fame and fortune thanks to their former relationship and the songs he wrote about their bond.
A poem to Cephalonia, if not feminism, the chemistry between our leads Pelagia, Magison Clare, and stand-out star Alex Mugnaioni as Corelli (who plays the mandolin expertly) pulls you in and never lets you go. This is love. Heart-wrenching, painful and not always easy.
When the lovers unite in their later years, we take comfort in the fact love cannot be beaten, not fully by war, time or geography.
Warning: you will weep. A lot.
One of the biggest heart-wrenches followed a love scene between gay Italian soldiers, Carlo (Ryan Donaldson) and Francesco (Fred Fergus), a bond only cemented with a kiss, as one man lies dying in the other’s.
Eve’s character of Drasoula is the bedrock to the play as she mothers many, even discovering a newborn in the rubble of war towards the end. The character of Drasoula personifies the Greek chorus, she is the matriarch whose mother tongue (literally) manifests the pain of the island and its people through her songs, wails and tears.
Her voice is the pathetic fallacy of the piece and the spirit of Cephalonia which rocks like the waves of its shore, still and measured at the start, playful at the arrival of the Italians who reside there with their musicality, and later, tumultuous, as the war devours the land and all who live there when the Germans descend.
Mayou Trikerioti’s mammoth crinkled dome hangs high above the audience’s heads reflecting the multiple invasions of the island and veers between vivid technicolor and looming shadows, building tension as soldiers mount and never fails to provide a sense of time and place.
…This play sure packs a punch. The sounds of bullets made me jump from my seat, and then again of course at curtain call as I leapt to my feet shouting, ‘Bravo’ clapping to the pounding of my heart. I’m still clapping now.
Do book. You wouldn’t want to miss it.
The tickets were complimentary but as always, my words are honest.
Production stills by Marc Brenner.