The rise of fascism, the powers that be in constant conflict with each other and the stories of ordinary people being drowned out by shouty rhetoric. Sound familiar? The parallels that can be drawn between Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and the current sociopolitical climate aren’t lost on Director Melly Still. But she tells me how she wants to tell a human story, not an ideological one.
Louis de Bernière’s text is familiar to most of us as it graced everyone's book shelf in the 90s, and the film is mostly memorable for Nicolas Cage’s questionable Italian accent. But what is your main takeaway of the story?
“Throughout rehearsals we were studying the text and the sociopolitical landscape leading up to the Second World War, and it feels very close to the bone at the moment. Dr Iannis (Pelagia's Father) tries to warn people about the rise of fascism but in the end it becomes unstoppable.
"Also people talk about collateral damage in war and deaths as statistics. In this production you're going to get to know these human beings and see the direct impact of conflict. But also the story is one that is hopeful and universal. It tells us that no matter what the terrible circumstances, people can find love and human connection”
So how on earth do you go about bringing Kefalonia to Birmingham?
“After a recce to the island, I knew that capturing the Kefalonian light was an essential part of bringing the warm feeling of the Greek isle to The Rep main stage. So a shard of bashed and wonky copper is central to the staging, looking like it’s just fallen from the sky and into a rock at the back of the set. All manner of things are projected onto it through the performance, subconsciously giving the sense of Mediterranean warmth and red sand in one moment, and the burnished blue tones giving the impression of the sea the next”
Is the costuming as abstract as the staging? And is there anything in the play you'd like to wear yourself?
"While the staging is conceptual rather than literal, the costumes are authentic. I love the Italian soldiers uniforms, but I can't say I'd like to wear them! Another lovely costume is Dr Iannis' linen three-piece suit, it's understated and modest. The costume department had to use sleight of hand trickery to allow the cast of 15 to quickly change from one character into the next—as well as allow for very physical, choreographed combat scenes. I never really believe stage fighting, I'm not a fan of it. Rather than using guns, the soldiers have huge backpacks on that are almost mattress-like, that allow the actors to roll and fall with ease, so the audience can imagine the suggested conflict rather than having it spelt out to them”
What were the challenges of adapting this modern day classic?
“Besides staging the fight scenes, I was conscious of depicting the personal, human experience of war rather than the historical facts. I was inspired by films like Jacob's Ladder and Shutter Island where a character's sense of reality becomes skewed and in this case, the experience of war means they start hallucinating. That was the most challenging but potentially the most exciting. Louis de Bernières came to workshops during rehearsals and has seen the finished piece and he was full of praise of how we have translated his work to stage. It’s essentially a love story that shows us how love can flourish even in the most unlikely places. Through his music and through his spirit, Corelli wants us to find the small joys in each day. Music is something that can unite us all, it doesn’t take sides”
Captain Corelli's Mandolin starts tomorrow at The Rep and runs until June 15