Obituaries: Mike Maran, gifted storyteller and Fringe favourite famed for adaptation of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

Mike Maran, storyteller. Born: 11 March, 1949 in Edinburgh. Died: 9 June, 2024 in Cambridge.

In a world of cultural cabals, Mike Maran steered a path that was inventively, beguilingly his own. A stalwart of the Edinburgh Fringe for 40 years, Maran charmed audiences from Easdale Island to Chipping Norton and Hong Kong to Manhattan – but never more magically than in the tiny theatre above one of the world’s legendary delis. With his passing, Scotland has lost one of its great storytelling voices.

The Marans were among the Italian immigrant families who enlivened the Leith end of Edinburgh in the early 20th century, and the 1950s found young Mike with the Di Rollos, Capaldis and de Lucas at the city’s new Scotus Academy. It was a serendipitous choice, and when the school’s inspirational choirmaster Arthur Oldham wrote a musical, the Land of Green Ginger (for which another Scotus teacher, Richard Demarco, designed the sets), he created a part for Maran. In 1965, Mike was among Oldham’s 340-strong Edinburgh Festival Chorus for a famous performance of Mahler’s 8th Symphony at the Usher Hall: a formative experience.

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Graduating from the University of Edinburgh, Maran began his own musical journey, joining expatriate Scots like Bert Jansch and John Martyn in the folk clubs of London. The curly-haired ingenue had a tune and a charm that caught the ear, and before long he was recording sessions for the influential DJ John Peel, who wrote the liner notes for Maran’s first album (“Mike Maran is a singer-songwriter with a difference… I reckon you’ll find this lp as good as a week by the sea.”) Mike was already on the tour bus, opening for established acts like Emerson Lake and Palmer, Captain Beefheart and ELO (and flunking the rock-star lifestyle; after miserably failing to roll a smokeable joint with a member of Steeleye Span one night, the pair consoled themselves with hotel-room hot chocolate).

Mike Maran with Anne Evans and Ali Stephens in Captain Corelli’s MandolinMike Maran with Anne Evans and Ali Stephens in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
Mike Maran with Anne Evans and Ali Stephens in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

By the mid-70s Maran was settled in boho Muswell Hill with a day job teaching English. When he flew to Germany to record his song Crazy Days with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, he had 6C’s essay-marking in his bag. But a turning-point was coming. Reviewers would enthuse about Maran’s between-song patter as much as his music, and when he made a suite of songs from Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, he got a vital steer from Father Anthony Ross, whose Chaplaincy Centre in Edinburgh’s George Square Mike described as “a lighthouse for little boats in trouble” in university days. Taking shape in the Chaplaincy’s Centre’s cafe in the summer of 1977, Penny Whistles of Robert Louis Stevenson would be Maran’s first Fringe show.

With scant resources and entrepreneurial invention, he had managed to sweet-talk sponsorship from the drinks company Pernod, and every attendee in the little basement got a tipple. “Absinthe does not make the seat grow softer,” complained the Scotsman reviewer, but something worked: the show was a triumph, filmed for an Easter Monday BBC broadcast, and it launched a dazzling succession of productions that would grow in vision and craft, but remain wholly rooted in their creator’s playful, wry and often sentimental personality.

Maran followed his passions – a new one every year – touring stages far beyond the Capital. In the Aros Theatre, Portree, John Muir took stock of the wondrous expanse of Yosemite and talked Teddy Roosevelt into making a National Park; doomed jazzman Chet Baker’s mournful trumpet wafted into the air of Newcastle’s quayside theatre through the bars of his Lucca prison cell; in The Riverfront, Newport, on the banks of the Po, Don Camillo pulled off his latest mischievous coup against his arch-enemy Mayor Peppone. Neither conventional storytelling or traditional theatre, the form was intimate, lo-fi, grab-you-by-the-scruff; Maran’s artfully-structured shows used a few (generally comic) props, but his instrument was himself: eyes that could switch from twinkle to tears in a narrative flash – and that voice, deeper and richer than in his folky days, its Scottish inflections now arresting, now affable, tone and pitch flitting among his invisible “cast” before refocussing to take command of his listeners.

Maran’s ear was as sharp and his network as vital as when he hung out at the Troubadour on Old Brompton Road, and the shows were propelled by peerless musicianship: virtuosos like accordionist Dave Vernon or fiddler Derek Hoy, concertina man Norman Chalmers or jazz stars Colin Steele and Dave Milligan shared the stage. There were invaluable collaborators like his early on-stage partner Dave Sheppard, later the director Patrick Sandford, and the redoubtable Jock Brown, who filled the roles of lighting and sound designer and operator, van driver, set builder and steady hand on the tiller for more than 25 years.

And the world beckoned: off-Broadway for Did You Used To Be RD Laing, about the maverick Scots pop-shrink. Strasbourg for Dante’s Divine Comedy. And Platero Y Yo, from the stories of Juan Ramon Jiminez, in Tiblisi. But actually, most of us will picture Mike in the tiny upstairs theatre of Edinburgh’s Valvona & Crolla delicatessen, where he began producing shows with Philip Contini (V&C proprietor, and another veteran of that 340-strong Mahler chorus) in 1993. And if no arena fuelled Maran’s magic better than this cramped space with its rafters and bare wood pillars, there was no better-fitting vehicle than Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Mike’s adaptation, with the maestro mandolinist Alison Stephens, Anne Evans on piano and Jock Brown behind the scenes, would seduce audiences all over Britain and beyond, and bring its tight-knit ensemble back to Edinburgh year after year.

When Mike got his terminal diagnosis this year, he had, of course, rehearsed. In 2008, after 600 sold-out performances of Corelli, both he and the much-loved Ali Stephens – extraordinarily – were diagnosed with cancer. They took their chemotherapy together in Addenbrookes Hospital. But only Mike survived, and he later rode a Vespa scooter 1,500 miles to Rome, sleeping under the stars, to raise money for the hospice where Ali died (a journey he repeated in her memory two years ago, aged 73.) Until recently he was still teaching, too, building bonds with kids whose schools could not cope with them in Cambridge. He will be missed beyond theatre-goers.

He is survived by his partner Christa and his children Lucy, Matt, Fergus and Jack, and granddaughter Imogen.


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