Review by Daz Gale
After being cut short in 2020 and cancelled in 2022, London’s biggest Arts festival is back as VAULT festival has opened in Waterloo this week for the first time in 3 years. Showcasing new and upcoming works, more than 500 shows are performing as part of the festival, which runs until March. With so much on offer, it is hard to work out just what you want to see – we will be trying to cover as much as humanly possible on the website over the next 2 months but what could get the honour of being out first review there this year? It seemed fitting for an Arts festival to see a show about Art, so In Clay won that accolade. But was it a work of art?
Based on a true story, this new one-woman musical is set in the late 1930s in a quaint Parisian kitchen where Marie-Berthe Cazin awaits the arrival of her closest childhood friend by reflecting on the highs and lows she has faced in her life. Throughout the course of a speedy hour, we get to know Marie as she deals with love, loss and life in general, all to the backdrop of the joy of creating art.
When you think of clay in connection to musical theatre, the first thing that surely comes to mind is THAT scene in Ghost. In Clay sets out to make a new memory with its combination of jazz manouche with contemporary musical theatre (no ‘Unchained Melody’ to be found here). Instead, we are treated to a selection of stunning numbers, written by Jack Miles and Rebecca Simmonds. The songs are truly the centrepiece of the story, played wonderfully by a four piece band led by music director Matt Herbert, they are instantly friendly on the ear.
The element of these songs that truly took my breath away, however, was the sheer quality of the lyrics. Innately clever and full of clever wordplay and rhymes, they were consistently refreshing and added a complex yet accessible nature to the numbers. It was the second number ‘Talent’ that really made me sit up and take notice, with its fantastic structure that takes you on a journey throughout. Other musical highlights included ‘Spark’, the character building ‘Fingernails’ (think Alanis Morissette’s ‘You Oughta Know’ but with clay) and the beautiful closing number ‘What’s In Between’. The way the songs are confidently able to paint a picture is befitting to the story being told.
Equally impressive is Rebecca Simmonds book which effortlessly tells Marie-Berthe’s story with panache, ensuring the storytelling flows naturally and is never dull. Full of heart and heartbreak, this is a story full of emotion where the fragility of life is reflected in the delicateness of the clay on display. Grace Taylors direction makes the use of the limited space in “The Cage” at The Vaults to ensure Marie-Berthe has plenty to use with Sorcha Corcoran’s set design allowing to showcase snippets of Marie-Berthes story and character as she continuously picks up the pieces she has created and discarded throughout to add a visual nature to the storytelling.
With such strong creative elements at play, it takes a strong performer to hold it all together and ensure all the pieces come together smoothly rather than breaking. In that respect, Rosalind Ford is an absolute sensation. Enrapturing the audience from the moment she walks on to the stage declaring “My milkman is my lover”. From then on, we are easily able to fall in love with Marie-Berthe (and indeed Rosalind herself) as she beautifully takes us through the circumstances that led her to this moment. A stunning actress with a truly remarkable singing voice, Rosalind is remarkable to witness from start to finish and left you confident you were watching the makings of a star.
There is always an inherent excitement when you are watching a brand new musical in its earliest days of development. You never know how you are going to react to it and where it’s going to go in the future. It could easily be a masterpiece or something that gets destroyed, never to be seen again. With In Clay, the latter seems very unlikely. With all the right elements in place, everything looks bright for this sweet show. I couldn’t help but be reminded of one of my favourite new musicals of last year, RIDE, with this show. Where that show has gone on an impressive journey of its own, I see a similar fate for In Clay.
An enchanting story full of heart and heartbreak, the jewel in the crown of In Clay is its songbook. Bursting with numbers that feel destined to become classics, I will be very excited to watch this show continue to be built in its sure to be successful future.
In Clay plays at VAULT Festival until 28th January. Tickets from https://vaultfestival.com/events/in-clay/
Follow @InClayMusical on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook to keep up to date with its latest developments.