Theatre Review: Watt @ Barbican

Perhaps it’s the shows we’ve been choosing to watch but, more often than not, trips to the theatre have recently seemed to involve being dragged into the action somehow. Immersive experiences are often deservedly popular but their current ubiquity means it feels fairly rare to see a play that consists of a lone man delivering a 50 minute monologue, with only a chair and a hat stand for company.

Barry McGovern – our leading man in this Gate Theatre Dublin production – doesn’t do anything fancy with these simple props either. He just hangs up his coat and hat, hooks his jacket over the chair back, takes a seat from time to time. The effect of the sparse set, costume and lighting is like watching something in black and white, or sepia. In this world, the deep green of the protagonist’s scruffy coat and the rich purple of the flower in its lapel stand out.

The simplicity of the surrounds is in contrast to the masterful language. McGovern looks us in the eye – his own eyes, framed by wild brows, ever glinting – and invites us into a world where nothing is something. The performance is constructed from selected extracts from the novel ‘Watt’, which Samuel Beckett wrote during the Second World War and finally found a publisher for in 1953. The script is a tongue twisting, listing, delight that it would have been a feat to merely memorise, nevermind deliver so convincingly.

The effect is like being read a story, where McGovern is himself, Watt and Beckett all at the same time. It’s funny, odd, melancholic and hypnotic, and something Beckett fans should seek out so they can aurally bathe in the writer’s clever language. But £18 a ticket is surely off-putting. It’s a shame such a price tag has been put on something that any language lover, especially an impoverished one with a taste for Dadaism and the absurd, would enjoy.

Watt plays in the Barbican Pit until 16 March; all tickets are £18; find out more at http://www.barbican.org.uk/theatre/event-detail.asp?ID=14065

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