A sharp love story told with humour and puppets

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres, adapted by Mike Maran, at Colchester Mercury until November 12.

A famous story beautifully told. It unfolds slowly like a flower searching for the sun and eventually finds the warm spot that touches us all. It’s done in the simplest of fashions, with flashes of fire, bits of comedy and some endearing puppets.

It is also blessed with sumptuous music and the sort of smiley-weepy ending that would make a Hollywood director very happy. Mike Maran, who adapted the piece and also plays the central role of Dr Iannis, has concentrated heavily on the love story and he has given it a nice tongue-in-cheek touch.

It’s a tale about the Greek island of Cephalonia in 1941 where Pelagia, the doctor’s daughter falls for the mischievous, playful Captain Corelli, leader of the Italian army group that has invaded them. When the Italy later surrenders to the Allies, the Nazis move in and murder all the Italians. But one escapes – just.

Full of delightful satire, the war is always there, bursting literally into occasional beastliness and that’s where the puppets come in. When it comes to mowing down a whole army with a machine gun, they do it with deadly efficiency.

They are worked with great skill by a team of ten, who are also part of the action, telling sweeps of the story, playing all manner of characters, including those of the leading actors when necessary. It’s a concept that seems a bit cluttered at first but then wins you over with its effect and its charm.

This is a joint production with the Marjanishvili Theatre in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi where the show opened a few weeks ago. That’s where the puppeteers come from, as does Natalie Kakhidze, the fiery actress playing Pelagia with dramatic flair and excellent English.

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She has a shining partner in Tony Casement who plays Corelli with teasing enjoyment and a great Italian accent and Mike Maran finds keen edges of humour for his Doctor Iannis. Gus Gallagher is a good Mandras, the boy who loses Pelagia to Corelli and Roger Delves-Broughton has a lot of fun as the British spy bumbling about in the mountains.

The music is one of the stars of the show. Composed by Vakhtang Kakhidze, father of actress Natalie, and recorded by the Tbilisi Symphony Orchestra, it adds a soaring score that reflects all the moods of the play brilliantly, not least its final moments.

David Henshall.

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