In Clay

Upstairs at the Gatehouse is an award-winning off West End theatre, situated in Highgate Village, North London. Since 1998, the Gatehouse has presented a variety of productions, from musicals, plays, operas and many more. Focussing on introducing and developing exciting new innovative theatre. 

Rebecca Simmonds and Jack Miles are the writer’s behind ‘In Clay’. The show was originally conceived during lockdown, when theatre ground to a halt and many performers, writers and theatre staff were contemplating their futures. Skip three years and In Clay begins its stint in the West End, following performances at The Other Palace, New Wimbledon Theatre studio spaces and a debut at Vault Festival. Leading to a nomination of ‘show of the week’ in January 2023, an Offies OffFest award, shortlist for Stiles & Drewe MTI Mentorship Award and Best New Song Prize 2023, it's been a whirlwind eighteen months…so far! 

The show is based on a true story, set in 1930s Paris, from the quaint Parisian kitchen of Marie-Berthe Cazin, a ceramist in her early 40s. Eagerly awaiting the arrival of her closest friend, artist Henrietta Tirman, Marie begins to reflect on a life devoted to making art, the great joys and sorrows that have plagued Marie’s life. 

To date, we know very little about the real Marie-Berthe, born Marie-Berthe Yvart, in August 1872. Mainly focusing on paintings, pottery and goldsmithing, what remains of Marie’s work is based and plates, with floral decoration. Marie died in 1971, aged 98, passing in the same place the play begins, Sèvres, a French commune in the suburbs of Paris.

In Clay is centred around two statements in Marie’s biography, the first is that many of the vases attributed to French artist Michael Cazin were actually made by Marie. Following the discovery, Marie began to individually sign each piece of art. What follows is a unique story, a ‘museum to Marie’ that will be sure resonate with anyone who has ever attempted to make something, but not had the success they were hoping.

15 minutes before showtime, the audience were instructed to take our seats and the house band played an exclusive set in the auditorium. A four-piece jazz band, led by Matt Herbert, positioned to the left of the stage, performing an intimate but charming soundtrack throughout the performance. Sometimes live bands can overpower performances, distract the audience from centre stage, however, this is not the case with In Clay.  The live four-piece offer a unique sound, intimate but powerfully positive, transmitting energy throughout the auditorium. 

Rosalind Ford plays Marie-Berthe Cazin with heart and soul, a performance I will not forget for a long-time. Ford delights the audience for the entirety of the show, captivating with a sublime vocal ability, showing a delicate touch, especially during the emotional final song ‘What’s in Between’. A simply beautiful number, contributing to a powerfully emotional close to the play.

The production was also accompanied by an exhibition celebrating contemporary women ceramicists, working with clay. Shining a light on women artists including: Emily Myers, Ngozi Omeje, Ying Zheng, Venetia Berry, Maja Quille, Tessa Eastman, Iku Nishikawa and Rose Schmits to name a few. A simply beautiful exhibit, celebrating work by often overlooked artists. 

The current production, ‘In Clay’ is nothing but a masterpiece. Quite simply, a beautifully original, expertly crafted, unique story, set in 1930’s Paris, told by the magnificent Rosalind Ford. 

The show was reviewed on Friday 15th March 2024. In Clay runs Upstairs at the Gatehouse, London, until Sunday 7th April 2024. Tickets available here: Events for 17/03/2024 (ticketsolve.com)

Reviewed by Stuart Midwinter

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Photo credit: Felix Mosse

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