Watt – Project Arts Centre, Dublin

Writer: Samuel Beckett

Adaption: Barry McGovern

Director: Tom Creed

Reviewer: Sarah Hoover

Samuel Beckett wrote Watt while around him WWII demonstrated that reason alone cannot make sense of the world and do not make it a better place. He said he wrote it to keep him sane, and the desperation with which the title character seeks order, structure, and logic is evidence of this. But in the hands (and most delightfully the full baritone voice) of McGovern Watt’s search for structure is beautifully coloured with Beckett’s dark, absurdist humor.

McGovern’s career as the man who interprets Beckett has shaped his body into the perfect medium. His control and precision are exquisite; often in Watt it is just his eyes and voice that hold the audience. But hold us he does, whether we are floating on the repetitive rhythms of Watt’s existential exploration or seeking to nail down something definite about the man, his world, his needs, and desires. Creed’s direction wields minimalism on the stage like a laser pointer, and Sinéad Mckenna’s bare and subtle lighting and set designs enhance this stillness and keep the audience closely focused on every move and word in case somewhere there is a key to the man.

There isn’t. Famously Beckett’s final words in Watt are “no symbols where none intended”, an injunction that might be proposed out of perversity or a desire to keep that focus on the what-ness of Watt’s existence. Or both. Though Watt pre-dates major works of post-structuralist philosophy, the threads of this post-war thinking are very present in the performance. Don’t ask who this man is, don’t attempt to categorise or subdivide his reality into logically connected segments. Ask instead what kind of man he is. What are the qualities of his days? What makes them full, unique; what makes us see the monotony of our own days differently? Listen to the details of his life (moving from the window to the door, the window to the door, the from the door to the window; from the fire to the bed, from the bed to the fire; from the bed to the fire, from the fire to the bed) and in the repetition find that what you thought you knew is wrong.

For example, McGovern’s Watt concentrates his whole being on ludicrous attempts to surprise meaning out of a pot, only to discover that its pot-ness is unnamable. Which doesn’t prevent it from holding dinner. Make what sense you can out of Watt; McGovern’s virtuosic performance demonstrates the value of simply experiencing the play.

Runs until 13 April 2019 | Image: Contributed

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