A hymn to companionship, music and the sea Novecento is a love song set in a time when romance infused the everyday and men were still legends. Alessandro Baricco’s rich monologue, part of new season Donmar Trafalgar, is an engrossing and engaging tale of "the greatest pianist who every played on the Ocean." It may stumble into the trap of verbose sentimentality towards its explosive conclusion, but Ann Goldstein’s wry translation ensures this is, for the most part, a robust and entertaining homage.
From the moment he is found on the grand piano aboard the glittering Virginian, Danny Boodman TD Lemon Novecento’s life is bound up inexorably with the ocean and music. Never stepping on dry land, Novecento absorbs all he knows of the world from the life that ebbs and flows through the ship, pouring each new story and melody he hears into the creation of otherworldly notes and compositions.
Told through the eyes of Novecento’s best friend, trumpeter Tim Tooney, Baricco’s virile text echoes heroic fables and great myths, whilst winking at the beautiful and terrible minutiae that makes up life.
In Roisin McBrinn’s undulating and rigorous production one is transported into the ghostly memories of Tooney with wit and verve. Olly Fox’s dreamlike composition further seduces us into Tooney’s reminiscences and Paul Wills’ set of swinging links and piped corridors edgily facilitates McBrinn’s dynamic staging.
Fusing it all together Bonnar as Tooney gives a magnetic performance colouring his adoring narration with a frayed knowingness in a voice that reeks of jazz and gin. He is at once earnest narrator and clown and he carries this story with flare and passion.