'Watt' review or 'A whole lot of nothing that adds up to one hell of a something.'
Barry McGovern in Watt, by Samuel Beckett
Pit Theatre, The Barbican, Friday 28th February 2013
Part dance, stand-up comedy, performance poetry, novel reading, one-man-show and full-on play, 'Watt' is a lot of nothing that adds up to one hell of a something. This is an adaptation of Beckett's novel (written during WWII), during which a weary chap named Watt goes to work for an absent bloke called Mr Knott. Highlights involve a couple of piano tuners and pot that will not be named. And yet. And yet!
First there is the comedy, which is weaved into the work with such variety and ease. Every great Beckett actor is a brilliant comic actor too and McGovern is no exception. His jaunty walk rivals those of John Cleese, his elaborate eyebrow twitches are camper than Eric Morecambe's and his mime sillier than Rowan Atkinson's.
And so we laugh at this forgettable man in his forgettable job. We giggle at the big stuff ('Isn't life absurd!) and end up thinking, pointlessly, about the small stuff ('Why won't this pot speak?'). Beckett has a Pythonesque way of turning the natural order of things on its head and holding the absurd and profound tightly in his fist at the same time.
Almost all the important stuff is withheld from us. We are not told why Watt has embarked on this new job at this quiet house, nor are we told where he comes from or where he ultimately plans to go. Instead, everything surrounding Watt - right down to his name - involves a question mark that is never resolved. What?
It is the effect the words create - rather than the words themselves - that is to be savoured here. There it is again; that visceral something created by a supposed nothing. The words on their own feel meaningless yet strung together they create a sound, at least, that matters.
At one point the narrator - who slides between first and third person - spits out a damning assessment of life; 'Personally, of course, I regret everything...An ordure from beginning to end.' And yet around this outburst nestles poetry of exquisite beauty. The narrator rattles through hundreds of phrases,which encapsulate a moment, an image, a sound, a second of life. It's as if he has grabbed hold of a calendar, with a picture marked out for every day, and is flicking through it at an extraordinary whip. All those arbitrary images, flowing together, create the most exquisite, lilting poetry; a flurry of silly, shitty little moments that somehow add up to something beautiful.