Captain Corelli's Mandolin

Interview with the stars: Captain Corelli comes to the Rose

Louis de Bernieres’ Captain Corelli’s Mandolin comes to the Rose Theatre in April. We catch up with the lead cast members, Alex Mugnaioni and Madison Clare, to find out what’s in store

Louis de Bernieres’ story of star-crossed lovers tangled in a complicated web of romance on the island of Kefalonia during wartime occupation takes to the stage with all the grit and raw emotion of the original. Madison Clare, armed with a theatrical background and a fitting Greek heritage, has been cast as the strong-willed and plucky Pelagia and is thrilled with her role. “Captain Corelli is one of my favourite books – I’m still pinching myself that I’m playing Pelagia. My family is also pretty happy because she’s Greek.”

As with Madison, Alex’s Italian descent means his heritage is in-keeping with the story and that of the Italian captain occupier of the island, Antonio. “I don’t know if that was deliberate, there were so many different people of different backgrounds seen, and I don’t think our cultural or blood line background really factored into the decision, but it’s landed that way,” Alex explains to me during a break from Friday rehearsals.

The story tells of a tumultuous romance that blossoms out of the hatred of wartime, with lovers Antonio and Pelagia struggling with the wider political landscape and war-torn Greece but ultimately consumed by each other. The relationship between the two, both onstage and off, is therefore of critical importance. Madison says: “Alex was one of the reasons that I wanted to take the part because he was in my audition. Usually you can tell if you click with another actor and he’s very playful on stage and we just seemed to work together straight away.”

Alex agrees that casting the right person to act alongside him was key to the success of the play: “The camaraderie is so vital in any stage production because you’re in it together. I think if you’re going to portray these huge emotions of love and loss and fear and regret you have to be safe in each other’s company.”

Aside from a story of love, the novel is also about music, and the beauty and subtlety of a simple mandolin which seems to cut through the harshness of war. In terms of Antonio and his famous mandolin, Alex learnt the instrument for the play, greatly helped along by his guitar skills. “Since when I was cast to rehearsals we had about four months. That time was useful because I have had to learn to play the mandolin. It’s not only useful for me, but in terms of knowing Corelli. The process of playing an instrument has really informed that because I don’t think you can play Captain Corelli without actually playing the mandolin.”

As well as connecting with Antonio through a musical instrument, Alex uses the book as a huge source of character inspiration. “Louis’ book is like a bible with all the information. There is just so much description and a real wealth of material to draw on.”

While character descriptions are meticulous in the novel, Madison is also keen to embellish her role by bringing some of her own personality. “I like to give her quite a bit of wit – there are bits of that that shine through in the novel so I quite like to find places of intelligence in her which is fun.

“She’s also quite feisty, sometimes I can be quite feisty – maybe it’s the Mediterranean fire.”

The novel made its film debut back in 2001 with mixed reactions and both actors are wary of looking to the film for inspiration. In particular, the film sparked controversy surrounding some questionable accents. “We are avoiding Greek and Italian,” Alex laughs. “There is a nice device in the play so whoever is controlling the scene will speak in English and whoever isn’t will speak in their native tongue. Also, everyone is just doing their own real life accents so it brings a rich diversity.”

The film was also known for brushing over the history that so heavily features in the novel, and instead focuses on the drama of the ensuing romance. But the theatre version promises to include the history mapped out in the book. But how will it translate onto the stage? “Melly’s brain is how it translates,” explains Madison, who is speaking about director Olivier and Tony Award nominated director Melly Still. “She’s so creative and comes up with things that you wouldn’t’ even think could happen. Clearly, it would be really difficult to execute a full scale war on stage, but she has certain ideas with George, our movement director, about how to do things. It’s a creative, beautiful and a physical abstract method of working.”

Captain Corelli's Mandolin

The play coincides with the book’s 25-year-anniversary and both Alex and Madison note its continuing relevance and pertinence in today’s society.

“There is never really a time when the country isn’t in a state of uncertainty and I think that resonates in this play, with split political views and split cultural views,” explains Madison. “Ultimately it’s about how people work together and what unites them, and how things survive under the pressures of everything, particularly love.” She adds: “In the film, the homosexual love story gets omitted which is such a key part of the book. It’s so important now and I’m so glad that it’s given that platform in the play.”

“It’s one of those stories which will always be relevant even though it’s a specific time and specific event,” Alex adds. “But it’s really about the human event, human stories and human relationships within that. We’re in a tumultuous time politically and I think if you tell a story about the destruction of war it can serve as a wake-up call.”

So what can audiences expect from the play in a nutshell? “Love, hate, beauty, lots of movement and innovation on stage and in music,” Madison says. “There is also a lot they wouldn’t expect. I think our intention with this is the element of surprise and we execute things in unexpected ways.”

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin comes to the Rose Theatre from 23 April – 12 May.