The second offering in the Donmar’s Trafalgar Studio showcase season for its Resident Assistant Directors certainly demonstrates how, in the right hands, the word on the page can be brought to vivid life by the right combination of design, lighting, atmospheric soundscape and solo performer.

In Roisin McBrinn’s darkly shimmering production, Mark Bonnar’s down-at-heel trumpeter Tim Tooney grabs – and holds – one’s attention from the moment he appears on the riveted floor of Paul Wills’ set, a cold, metallic space swagged with heavy chains and defined by steel cables, suggesting the grey confines of the ocean-going SS Virginian where he once spent six years playing the trumpet.

But the story he has to tell isn’t so much his as that of Danny Boodmann T.D. Lemon Novecento, the liner’s pianist who was found, an abandoned newborn, on board the ship and never left it in the whole of his 30 plus years.

The piercing-eyed Bonnar makes a superlative narrator, imbuing Italian writer Alessandro Baricco’s 1994 theatrical monologue with a dramatic intensity not always warranted by the content. It’s a faultless performance, yet this tale of a jazz pianist, whose otherworldly music mesmerised passengers as they crossed the Atlantic, feels more like the matter for a short story than a play.


Trafalgar Studios (2), Whitehall, SW1A 2DY
Tube: Charing Cross
0844 871 7632
Until November 20

– Louise Kingsley