Theatre Review: Watt @ The Barbican


Brian McGovern delivers effortlessly. Photo:  Anthony Wood.

What do you get when you put one of Samuel Beckett’s more bizarrely comedic works in the hands of a great interpreter like Barry McGovern? A production which flashes by in a syncopated flurry of prose, gags, humour and wit.

The acclaimed Irish actor Brian McGovern has adapted one of Beckett’s most bemusing and mind-boggling novels, Watt. A book that as McGovern writes himself can be “difficult to read because of its seemingly endless lists and combinations and permutations.” I can see what he means as these lists are prevalent throughout the piece, but were the bits that amused me the most.

Director Tom Creed left the stage bare with just a chair, a coat hanger, a hat and two suitcases. McGovern dressed in coattails opens the monologue standing in the bright spotlight after settling down his suitcases. This is Watt who has travelled from a train station to the house of Mr. Knott, a man he works for. The rest of the story is about his service to Mr. Knot,  his observations of his surroundings as well as his interactions with various visitors to Knot’s home. In typical Beckettian style it would seem to be an uneventful narrative but of course, I would be remiss to label it so simply.

As for the text, an audience member behind me said “it’s Beckett at his best.”  I would have to agree but it is a text that you have to be open to and ready to absorb all the intricacies that it possesses. Being a stage adaptation of a novel I found what worked was that it wasn’t staged necessarily as a monologue but almost as if this terrific actor was reading the best bits of the novel to us. McGovern is comfortable in this “inoffensive creature ” who like other Beckett characters seems to be waiting for something but it’s quite hard to pinpoint Watt.

McGovern delivers Beckett’s words effortlessly.  Sometimes it felt like you were witnessing a masterclass. It was as if McGovern was showing us laymen how to “do” Beckett. The rhythm inherent in the text was lifted by McGovern’s fluid delivery.  He seemed comfortable in it and consequently made me feel swept away by the quirkiness and at times murkiness of the story. All in all a terrific and captivating 50 minutes at the theatre.

The Gate House Theatre from Dublin will be at the Barbican until March 16 (020 7638 8891,


About Melissa Palleschi

Melissa Palleschi New York actress living in London and trained in Italy, New York and here in London at the Actors Studio. She is also a founding member of the Planktonic Players, who made their London debut at Camden Fringe Festival in 2012.


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