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Novecento

Alessandro Baricco, translated by Ann Goldstein
Donmar Trafalgar
Trafalgar Studios 2
(2010)

Novecento publicity photo

Novecento, or The Legend of 1900 as it was called when filmed by Cinema Paradiso director Giuseppe Tornatore, must be an acquired taste. Having struggled with both, it is hard to see why someone would wish to adapt a parable with little action or drama.

Róisín McBrinn has chosen Ann Goldstein's English version of the monologue by Italian author Alessandro Baricco from which the movie was developed as an opportunity to show off her talent in this young directors' season promoted by the Donmar.

She has had the good fortune to contract the services of Mark Bonnar to play the wastrel trumpeter who narrates the story of his old friend, the man named after the year of his birth.

Bonnar looks and speaks like a gumshoe from a film adaptation of a novel by Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler. However, his tale is of a different type, relating a tall story from the days when cruise liners were the only means of crossing the Atlantic.

The protagonist, whose full name - Danny Boodmann T.D. Lemon Novecento- is an epic in itself, was born at sea and was abandoned on a piano at around ten days, before being adopted by a sailor as father with the good ship Virginia playing mum.

Unlikely as it may sound, the foundling then spent the ensuing fifty or so years of his life never getting closer to leaving the vessel than three wary steps down the gangplank.

Without training, the prodigy was able to play piano like an angel. So good was he that Jelly Roll Morton, a real legend and reputedly the inventor of jazz, came on board for a piano duel from which he left defeated with tail between his legs.

Baricco is determined to make his story into something more, attempting to imbue it with mythical qualities and suitably portentous writing.

Despite brilliant acting and inventive staging helped by designer Paul Wills who creates a couple of really memorable images, this reviewer can still see nothing other than the emperor's new clothes in a 90 minute rendition of material that seems worthy of significantly less.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher