Festival review: Watt; Royal Lyceum Theatre

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THERE’S something exhilarating about the sheer scale of the contrast between the huge 2008: Macbeth, which opened this year’s festival theatre programme at Ingliston on Friday, and this flawless theatrical miniature at the Royal Lyceum.

One boasts a gigantic set, a large cast and lavish production values; the other features a single actor on a dark stage furnished with a plain chair and coat-stand, and lasts barely 50 minutes.

Yet because Barry McGovern’s version of Watt takes us straight into communion with one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, it never seems to lack weight or ambition. Selected and adapted by McGovern himself from Samuel Beckett’s much longer 1940s novel, the monologue offers a brief account of the last chapter in the life of Watt, an old and poverty-stricken man who leaves the city for a large house in the country, where he briefly becomes a servant to a man called Knott.

Like an inspired form of stand-up comedy, Beckett’s narrative takes the tiny and sometimes squalid details of Watt’s life and thought, and creates a narrative that is both profoundly comic and absolutely tragic. Watt is probably dying, but he still remains obsessive about details of language, and teased beyond endurance by the fact that when nothing happens he can only describe it by talking as if that nothing is, itself, an event.

The text is immaculate and McGovern’s superb performance, directed by Tom Creed, is beyond perfection, effortlessly filling the Lyceum space with a theatrical energy both intense and relaxed; and as wise, wry, spare, witty and beautiful as the mind of the playwright himself.

Rating: * * * * *

Until today, 8pm.