Watt review

Theatre, Drama
4 out of 5 stars
Watt Melbourne Festival 2018
Photograph: Pia Johnson

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Melbourne Festival presents one of the world's best Beckett interpreters in this one-man show

If you know one thing about playwright and novelist Samuel Beckett, it’s probably that he wrote a bunch of works where a whole lot of nothing happens. Quite a few of his plays feel like they’re taking place in some kind of waiting room where his characters are fated to interminably experience the unusual phenomenon of nothing. That’s precisely what happens over and over again in Watt, Beckett’s 1953 novel adapted here into a masterly performed and wryly funny one-man show by Irish actor Barry McGovern.

It starts with a simple statement – “the only way one can speak of nothing is to speak of it as though it were something”. For the next hour McGovern tells us about all the nothing that happens to the bizarre and reclusive titular character, who becomes a servant at the house of a mysterious Mr Knott. He meets a bunch of other characters while he’s in the service of Mr Knott, including piano tuners, gardeners and a fishwoman with whom he has a strange tryst.

It’s a fairly dense text, but McGovern delivers it with a litheness – and a gently sweet Irish brogue – that keeps audiences inside the action, even if you miss a few narrative details when Beckett’s language becomes circular and obtuse (one particular bit about how long Watt spends sitting on Mrs Gorman, and how long Mrs Gorman spends sitting on Watt is a tad confusing but riotously funny). It’s an exquisite, finely calibrated, intimate portrait of humanity, which leans into comedy without losing its sense of the tragic.

McGovern proves, as in all good Beckett, that nothing itself can be surprisingly captivating. It’s a gem of a show and a great coup for Melbourne Festival to be able to present Beckett performed by an actor acclaimed as one of the greatest Beckett interpreters in the world.

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