In Clay review – Upstairs at the Gatehouse, London ★★★★★

Photo: Felix Mosse

Review by Ethan Skillman

As soon as the lights went down and the music began for In Clay I was instantly transported to 1930s Paris – and there I remained for 90 minutes.

In clay tells the story of Marie-Berthe Cazin a French artist who specialised in pottery and is believed to have released most of her works under the name of her husband. Before going into the piece, my extent of pottery knowledge came from The Great Pottery Throwdown (an excellent series) and I admit that I didn’t have much care for the art form all that much. This show however has fully changed my opinion and has made me understand the love and craft put into every pot (I may even try some pottery myself! Don’t hold me to that).

Rosalind Ford does an incredible job playing Cazin and owns the room for the whole show. She is the only actress on stage for the show (Eleanor Walsh is the alternate Cazin who I am sure will also be great in the role after seeing her in the UK tour of Heathers) and she takes that challenge in her stride, being utterly charming and captivating throughout.

The highlight of her performance for me was Spark. With the help of the superb partnership of Rebecca Simmonds (book and lyrics) and Jack Miles (music and lyrics), Ford is able to perfectly convey in just one song the entire creative process, including the moment you fall out of love with your creation before coming back round to it in an even bigger way. Even though I am an acting student, rather than a pottery student, I related to the portrayal of this journey and the passion with which Ford sang the lyrics was impeccable. The song culminates with Ford creating a pot live on stage which was just magnificent to watch.

Photo: Felix Mosse

It would be amiss if I continued this review without mentioning the superb music. Matt Herbert is responsible for the arrangements and orchestrations and all the songs have a 1930s Parisian jazzy feel to them which adds to the endearing vibe. Most of the recent shows I have seen all seem to have the same pop-based inspirations so it was very refreshing to hear something different, and I will definitely be searching it out to add to my ever-growing musical theatre playlist.

This tied with Rachael Ryan’s enchanting set and costume design really envelops you in the life of an artist. The stage is filled with old pots. Boxes are filled with old artworks and letters from loved ones and you can fully believe that it is the house of a constantly working artist. Every spot of the stage was utilised excellently with the centrepiece of a pottery wheel being used in a variety of interesting ways. However, if I was nitpicking, one reveal in the second half would have been missed by some on the right-hand side of the auditorium due to the show’s blocking.

Alongside this performance there is the opportunity to see In Clay: The Exhibition, a collection of clay art made by contemporary women across the globe. Though the exhibition would have been more effective after seeing the show, rather than before, it was still an excellent add-on. The highlight of the exhibition was Crawler Pot 009 by Rose Schmits from Great Pottery Throwdown fame: a spidery pot with many spindly legs coming from underneath.

I would urge everyone to see this musical while they can and I hope this is just the beginning of a long run for this great show.

In Clay is at Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 7 April 2024