What would Samuel Beckett, the poster boy for existential angst, make of these strange and unsettling days?
It is safe to assume social distancing would not have been a problem for the writer, given that he spent two years hiding from the Nazis in the south of France during World War II, after his work for the Resistance was discovered. It was during this time in Roussillon that he completed Watt, the novel on which this one-man show, performed by Barry McGovern and directed by Tom Creed, is based.
All the Beckettian tropes are present and correct in Watt, and we move from a sense of dislocation and purgatorial uncertainty to the feeling that nothing yet everything is happening in tandem.
Watt travels to a house to become a servant to the mysterious Mr Knott, encountering an assortment of odd characters in his tenure there. The title character is more observer than participant; as the narrator tells us, ‘Watt had watched people smile and thought he understood how it was done’.
The novel is skilfully adapted and distilled from the text by McGovern, who functions as narrator and cast. As well as expertly inhabiting the roles required, McGovern is a physical reminder of the author himself, of similar voice and stature, dressed plainly in grey top, baggy pants and braces, with an abundant greying quiff.
He is a virtuoso when it comes to conveying the often playful musicality of Beckett’s language, while also mining its humour to expert effect, eliciting laughs from the audience almost immediately.
By the end, the mirth has faded, however, and the show ends as it begins, with Watt at a train station. He is in silhouette, once again waiting, watching, and seeking a ticket to the ‘furthest end of the line’ perhaps leaving the audience to ponder whether we are already there.