Tag Archives: Malcolm Rippeth

Plucking at Heartstrings

CAPTAIN CORELLI’S MANDOLIN

The REP, Birmingham, Wednesday 29th May, 2019

 

Rona Munro’s masterly adaptation of the Louis de Bernieres bestseller reimagines the novel as an exuberantly theatrical piece.  Directed by Melly Still, this production uses a child-like approach: the weapons are all mimed, exploded soldiers perform pratfalls onto their backpacks – but this war game is deadly.  There are consequences beyond the bang-bang-you’re-dead action.  Still uses heavily stylised, emblematic elements to create some striking imagery: the dead caught in a web of death is particularly horrific.  Augmented by Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting and Jon Nicholls’s sound, the storytelling is impeccable.  This is grown-up theatre at its finest and the scenes of violence are all the more powerful rendered in this way.

Alex Mugnaioni is the titular officer, a remote figure at first before he comes to occupy a room in the house of Dr Iannis (an avuncular joseph Long) and insinuate himself into the affections of the doctor’s resourceful daughter Pelagia (Madison Clare).   The couple’s relationship is tainted by the encroaching events of the war in Greece; their love story is searing and romantic, and we see the life-changing disruption caused not only by conflict but also by the passage of time.  Mugnaioni and Clare are sweet and touching in their portrayal of these star-cross’d lovers.  Corelli’s mandolin playing is a reminder of the beauty humans can create, a counterpoint to the man-made horrors of war.  He plays wonderfully but will Corelli be able to pluck up the courage to do what is necessary?

The presentation may be stylised but human nature is revealed through raw emotion and truthful playing.  Eve Polycarpou performs some heart-rending vocalisations as the grief-stricken Drosoula; Ryan Donaldson’s imposing presence is offset by his character’s tender nature – we feel it when Carlos falls for Francesco (Fred Fergus) and are heartbroken by Carlos’s noble act of sacrifice.  Ashley Gayle is a passionate Mandras, while Stewart Scudamore brings a touch of humour as Velisaros, the local strongman.

Truly fascinating are the performances of Luisa Guerreiro as a goat and Elizabeth Mary Williams as Psipsina, a pine marten.  In fact, I often found myself focussing on their behaviours while the human characters were speaking!

Mayou Trikerioti’s set, almost spartan you might say, with a stepladder used as a door and two huge copper squares suspended at the back, somehow evokes Cephalonia.  There is something about the metal that suggests the history of the island – the squares serve as screens for video effects too.  There is original music by Harry Blake that enhances the local colour and stirs the emotions.

Rona Munro selects from de Berniere’s rich writing so that snippets and descriptive phrases work on our imaginations – adaptation is more than just retelling the plot.  While I wasn’t reduced to floods of tears as I was when I read the novel, this is a superbly effective production, both shocking and moving, and above all thoroughly absorbing.

marc brenner

Fret not, Captain Corelli’s here! Alex Mugnaioni (Photo: Marc Brenner)

 

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Murder with Class

A JUDGMENT IN STONE

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 20th February, 2017

 

Formerly the Agatha Christie Theatre Company, the Classic Thriller Theatre Company hopes to emulate its earlier success by expanding the range of writers it draws upon, and so we have this adaptation of a Ruth Rendell novel, delivered in the company’s solid and classy style.

I don’t know if it exists in the book, never having read it, but this version, by Simon Brett and Anthony Lampard, uses the device of alternating scenes of the police investigation with flashbacks leading up to the brutal murder of the Coverdale family.  Past and present collide and keep us hooked on the developing mystery.

Sophie Ward is excellent as the dowdy housekeeper, Eunice Parchman, hiding what to her is a terrible secret.  As the detectives, Vetch and Challoner, Andrew Lancel and Ben Nealon exude an air of easy professionalism.  Mark Wynter amuses as the smug patriarch George Coverdale, while Rosie Thomson as his wife is the life and soul of the household.  Joshua Price mills around as the bookish, oddball son, and Jennifer Sims brings emotional depth to her role of Melinda, the daughter home from university.  We know the family is doomed – it’s a matter of when and by whom that keeps us intrigued.  They’re all so terribly middle-class, calling each other ‘darling’ all the time, that we perhaps don’t much care about them as individuals.  Rather our sympathy lies elsewhere – but that would be telling.

The usually glamorous Shirley Anne Field dresses down as cleaner Mrs Baalham, and Deborah Grant muttons up as outlandish postmistress and religious crank, Joan Smith.  Revelation of the night (apart from the whodunit) is former Blue singer Antony Costa delivering a nice line in character acting as the reformed criminal and gardener, Rodger Meadows.

Julie Godfrey’s set epitomises the country house mystery, but it also communicates a message about the permanence of the class system – this is a story with class, in more ways than one.  Director Roy Marsden keeps the action flowing seamlessly between the two timelines, using Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting design to mark when we are, as well as to highlight certain dramatic moments.

It all makes up for a solid and reliable piece of entertainment, excellently presented.  We may guess who is responsible, but when the murder scene finally arrives it is no less shocking.  Pace and tone are handled expertly to deliver the goods.

The Agatha Christie Theatre Company is dead; long live the Classic Thriller Theatre Company!

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Sophie Ward (Photo: Mark Yeoman)