Barry McGovern reads Samuel Beckett

Barry McGovern reads Samuel Beckett

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

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Neil Cooper

Irish actor Barry McGovern has long proved to be the master of interpreting the twentieth century's most iconic writer, ever since he appeared on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1986 in I'll Go On. This solo adaptation of Beckett's trilogy of novels, Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnameable, was revived for the Edinburgh International Festival in 2013 following a rendition of Beckett's novella, Watt, the previous year.

So to hear McGovern read a seventy-five minute selection of Beckett's prose and poetry as the culmination of Uncensored Life, a weekend-long celebration of publisher John Calder, who first introduced the world to Beckett, William Burroughs and many other literary giants, is a thrill indeed.

McGovern stands with a folder full of photocopied texts, and begins solemnly, only for Beckett's words to open out their meditations on mortality to reveal a master comedian at work. With work dating back to Beckett's early prose works, More Pricks Than Kicks and Murphy, McGovern flits between tiny love poems to what are effectively a series of comic routines that make up a form of existentialist vaudeville as they chart the everyday minutiae that give life meaning.

There are brief excerpts from Watt and the trilogy too, with the latter becoming a rolling torrent of words delivered by McGovern with an understated richness in tone.

The evening closes, as it must, with What Is The Word, Beckett's final, ultra-minimalist poem, written when he was eighty-three for theatre director Joseph Chaikin after Chaikin had suffered a stroke that left him aphasic. With Calder himself in attendance, McGovern gives a masterly rendition of a poem that honours several icons at once.