This is a play with clay. Interactive, silly, hands-on play, with actual, uncoloured, brick-shaped clay (none of this new-fangled play-doh stuff). It’s such a simple idea, but it chimes with the young audience; Claytime is utterly engrossing.
Performer Sally Todd brings out big slabs of clay, plonking them down on the floor and counting as she goes. There’s a brief disturbance as a late-comer arrives and settles down, but a hushed attention quickly returns to the task at hand: watching Todd go behind the backdrop, return with a piece of clay, and helping her count it out. But Todd’s disappearances give the late-comer (Steve Tiplady) an opportunity to interrupt, to steal onto the stage and play with the clay himself. When Todd returns, there’s a moment of panic: will she be angry? No, she just joins is.
Todd could have been cross but she isn’t. Tiplady tries to deny the will of his hands (pointing accusingly at his own fingers), but they’ve just got to do what’s natural, exploring the material up close. Claytime offers examples of unadulterated play, of engaging in a free-spirited fashion without rules or a right way of doing things. It both reassures that this will not engender any harm, and stresses how important it is.
For a lot of the time, the performers aren’t doing anything very complicated with the clay – smacking it, smooshing it, sliding it across the floor – but what they are doing is transfixing, and funny. In fact, it would have been enough on its own, but Claytime moves into a second section which allows the audience to get involved more directly. As the children offer up their suggestions for a story, Todd quickly works on making the characters and scenes out of clay, and it is thrilling to see the tale come to life.
This is not the only moment of interaction, and it is a credit to the relaxed environment that audiences are so vocal throughout the show: it’s the result of a successfully permissive atmosphere, rather than outright insubordination! Finally, the production’s end brings a chance for the audience to get their hands on some clay – a fitting and fair conclusion.
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