The Theatreguide.London Review
Harold Pinter Theatre Summer 2019
This adaptation by Rona Munro
of Louis De Bernieres's popular wartime romance novel faces and doesn't
fully conquer real difficulties in conversion from fiction to drama.
While evocative staging
effects capture some of the book's spirit, the sprawling plot seems overly
artificial and manipulated when condensed into two hours, and even major
characters are barely sketched in.
On a peaceful Greek island in
1941 spirited and ambitious Pelagia is engaged to a local fisherman when
the Italians invade and he goes off to war. Thought dead, he returns badly
wounded, only to depart again once well to fight with the Partisans.
Meanwhile the occupying
Italian army brings an ordinary soldier and the music-loving Captain, both
of whom fall in love with Pelagia, the soldier gracefully retiring when it
is clear that the officer's gentleness and music have won her over.
When the Germans turn against
the Italians both men are killed, just as the fisherman returns and is
Three or four decades later
one of the trio proves to be still alive and returns yet again to pick up
where he left off.
In between, the novel offers
ruminations on history, tradition, love and honour that can only be
presented as awkwardly shoehorned-in passing comments in the play.
Where the play is at its best
is in evoking the sense of a peaceful and tradition-rich community
surviving disruption. Figures like the town doctor and a grieving old
woman may be a little too obviously half-symbolic archetypes, but in the
shorthand of drama they serve their function well.
Director Melly Still makes
bold and effective decisions like having actors play the family goat and
cat, communicating the human intimacy with the world of nature, and
delicately choreographed semi-dance sequences sustain the atmosphere while
indicating the passage of time.
But the coming and going of
the men becomes repetitive to the point of being almost comic, as there
are simply a few too many times someone thought dead re-appears alive.
The fisherman is gone for too
much of the story for his return to seem more than a plot contrivance,
while Captain Corelli is just too nice, too gentlemanly and too
seductively musical. The third man – the Italian soldier – is reduced to
hovering around the edges of the narrative, never fully integrated into
the world of the play.
And when the action jumps to
thirty or forty years later, neither the woman nor the
once-more-resurrected man has visibly aged, and her reasonable annoyance
at his keeping his survival secret is too easily overcome.
Madison Clare makes Pelagia
an attractively strong woman, while Alex Mugnaioni works hard to
communicate Corelli's charm. Joseph Long and Eva Polycarpou help create
and sustain the atmosphere of the island community, and Luisa Guerreiro
makes a droll and attitude-filled goat.
As is almost inevitable with novel adaptations to the stage, those who know the original will have the most successful experience, mentally and emotionally filling in the play's gaps. The rest will be too aware that they are watching a plot summary whose structure and internal rhythms don't translate comfortably to the stage.
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