Watt: a gem

Roman was in Melbourne recently to catch one of the offerings at the Melbourne Arts Festival.

“Watt” was the second of Beckett’s novels in English, written while he and his partner were on the run from the Nazis in France. He wrote it as a way to stay sane in the face of the trauma of war.

This hour-long production, adapted and performed by Irish actor Barry McGovern, is a mesmeric delight. McGovern appears on a sparse stage, as a narrator who tells of Watt’s train journey to a remote town, where he enters the service of a Mr Knott. And then the narrator will become Watt, displaying his curious walking style — swinging north, kicking out, then swivelling to the east to step forward, then swinging south, kicking, and swivelling east to advance once more. We are told early on that Watt hears voices, “singing, crying, stating, murmuring things unintelligible in his ear.”

We are captivated by the rhythm of the actions, and the description, in a calm, matter-of-fact tone. McGovern will switch back and forth between narrator, Watt, and other characters as he tells the tale, mimes the actions, and comments on events.

It’s a hypnotic tale, with mellifluous phrases and repetitions, charming us into the action, all conveyed in a charming Irish lilt. It’s not surprising McGovern is considered one of the leading interpreters of Beckett: by the end of the play he has entranced the whole audience.