Novecento - Review

A bold show with electrifying energy - but does Novecento at the Donmar Trafalgar, Trafalgar Studios, Whitehall, SW1, have all that jazz?

ITALIAN novelist, director and performer Alessandro Baricco’s Novecento is the new one man show at the Donmar’s residency at Trafalgar Studios.

It tells the story of Novecento, the fictional jazz hero who became the greatest jazz musician that the world would never know. Born in 1900 on board a great Atlantic cruise liner, Novecento grows up on the ship and never leaves it once in his lifetime.

The story teller Tim Tooney (Mark Bonnar), is a journey man jazz musician who meets the imaginative artist Novecento on his travels. Playing trumpet with him for six years, he slowly becomes his best friend.

“When you don’t know what it is... it’s jazz” he tells us with aplomb. And this is the premise of the show, as we are given intricate explanations of the artistry and innovation of the jazz musician Novecento.

It’s a bold choice of show, and Bonnar plays his role with electrifying energy over the hour and a half performance. He has an incredibly hard-working role and switches between different characters seamlessly.

Some moments have you gripped, such as the tale of the musical duel between Novecento and rival musician Jelly Roll Morton, who claimed to have invented jazz.

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However the fact that we have no knowledge of Novecento apart from Tooney’s recollections makes it difficult to care deeply about him or really get involved.

There’s also very little music itself during the telling of the story. But there is a truly virtuosic performance from Bonnar and the show is recommended on this alone.