Theatre, West End
4 out of 5 stars
Francis Loney

‘If there were two things that Watt disliked, one was the moon… and the other was the sun.’ The voice of the speaker lilts, dripping in comedic melancholy – the statement is part threadbare existentialism, part lugubrious stand-up. It’s such dark jewels that combine to make the glittering whole of Barry McGovern’s adaptation of Samuel Beckett’s second novel ‘Watt’.

McGovern, already acclaimed for his one-man Beckett show ‘I’ll Go On’, takes us into the bleakly obsessive world of the itinerant title character and turns it into a comic miracle of mordant observations.

Watt, clearly a cousin to Valdimir and Estragon in ‘Waiting for Godot’, lurches on to a dark stage that is bare except for a hat stand. McGovern removes his coat and arranges it, along with his cases, so that the hat stand now looks like a forlorn vagrant – Watt’s shadow self. Dressed in a servant’s garb of dress tails but no tie, he relates his time working in the house of Mr Knott. Watt, as the name suggests, feels his existence to be a constant shrug of a question, and his service is filled with such riddles as the arrival of the sinister father-and-son piano tuners, or his stilted liaisons with a one-breasted housemaid.

McGovern’s success as a Beckett performer derives not just from his dour clownishness – all sharp eyebrows and exaggerated movements – but from his dedication to mining Beckett’s language in all its precise beauty. The tale of Watt’s semantic assault on a pot that seems to him to refuse to be called a pot is not just extremely funny, it is also a revelation that this is as much a story about being a writer as it is about a servant’s voyage into the dark heart of nothingness. Rachel Halliburton


Event phone: 020 7638 8891
Event website: http://www.barbican.org.uk
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