‘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