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Monday, November 7, 2011

Greek drama with Georgian accent: Mike Maran and the Georgian puppets

Captain Corelli's Mandolin (Mercury Theatre, Colchester) 
Millions have read the book, seen the film and, by now, ditched the T-shirt.

But Louis de Bernieres’ Nineties bestseller is back, and this time his Greek drama is playing out in Colchester. With puppets.

There are also real actors but, oddly, not a single note is struck on the mandolin.To be honest, the show is a mixed blessing, but there’s something tremendously robust about De Bernieres’ story of a Greek doctor’s daughter torn between an earnest fisherman and a charismatic Italian army officer on the Greek island of Cephalonia during World War II.

In a co-production with a puppet theatre company from Tbilisi, in Georgia, the show stops and starts like a dusty old tractor chugging up a stony hillside.
My hunch is that it really belongs on a smaller stage.
The poorly lit puppets are only about a foot tall and, despite big visual set pieces, you’ll need your opera glasses to keep up with the marionettes, including the mischievous puppet goat ‘Bastardo’. Levan Tsuladze’s direction also has a foreigner’s ear for the English language — the accents are as mixed as in an EU bail-out meeting.
And yet the story’s charm shines through like the Mediterranean sun. Mike Maran proves quite affable as the island’s doctor, despite his mysterious Scottish accent.

Meanwhile, the pulchritudinous Natalie Kakhidze, as his daughter is suitably strident but speaks in either a strong Greek or native Georgian accent. And Tony Casement’s Corelli seems to have cultivated his own accent in a dodgy trattoria, where he’s been kept from his beloved mandolin.

Roger Delves-Broughton typifies the good humour as a Peter Sellers-like English spy who has been parachuted in and radios back to base murmuring ‘Roast Beef this is Moussaka’.

In one moment of danger, he shushes our heroes only to wave a flaming torch wildly overhead. Despite such anomalies, the production benefits hugely from Vakhtang Kakhidze’s shamelessly emotional score.

There are big cinematic strings for the weepy bits and jaunty whistling for happy bits — while Greek Orthodox chant solemnises spiritual moments and unusually agreeable lobby-Muzak chimes in between times.
It’s such a theatrical hotch-potch, it has no right to work. But its heart (if not its mandolin) is in the right place.
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