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Let Us Clay!

Indefinite Articles
Suspense London Puppetry Festival
The Nave, St Paul's Road, N10
(2009)

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Award winning company Indefinite Articles have adapted their show Claytime for an adult audience as part of the Suspense London Puppetry Festival so move over kiddies - it's the grown-ups' turn!

Each event is unique with a largely word-less improvised opening from a trio of performer-puppeteer-sculptors followed by a play based on suggestions from the audience and a closing collage of clay pieces created by audience members.

Intrigued but not quite sure what to think during the first section as creatures cleverly emerged from amorphous blobs of clay and lumps were toyed with and thrown about, imagination kicked in to fill the void.

Predictably enough childhood memories of Vision On and Rolf Harris were evoked but also more thought-provoking things came to mind: Richard Dreyfus forming the hill out of mashed potato in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the feel of making bread mingled with thoughts about malleable materials being used as percussion instruments. And, slightly disturbingly, how the sound of six hands smacking against a clay mound brings to mind images of a masseuse slapping wet flesh. Crikey, where did that one come from, and was I blushing?!

Steve Tiplady guided proceedings forward by simply asking "what shall we make?" and the whole middle section took off from there with the necessary characters, set and props being made skilfully to order by Tiplady, Giles Leaman and Karina Garnett as the plot developed. There was masterly teamwork as things moved on; Garnett forming a torch from what had been a bit of ear, Tiplady creating and narrating and Leaman rejoining musician John Petter to provide an effective improvised accompaniment to the action as the pieces were brought to life in four practised hands.

Inevitably some patience was required as the pace slowed when the moulding couldn't keep up with the story telling but there was pleasure in the anticipation and the feel of it fitted well with the congenial and relaxed atmosphere. All suggestions from the audience were received uncritically and incorporated - even the idea of George, the security guard rabbit, eating vomit did not phase the team who are used to working with the gross suggestions of children - and protagonists were given motivation, personality and voice by Tiplady and the naturally comically expressive Garnett.

The story on Sunday night was the sort of surreal nonsense you'd expect in free-form improvisational work and afterwards Tiplady admitted to some surprise that we hadn't strayed into more 'adult themes' given that no boundaries had been imposed. May be we had been inhibited by the spiritual surroundings of the venue, a striking Grade II listed church building.

Clay was handed round the audience in the final part of the evening and everyone was invited to contribute an item to a tableau. As we squidged, moulded and created, music played unhurriedly and we were left to explore the possibilities. What a psychologist would have made of the collection on Sunday is anyone's guess; it included a handgun, a dinosaur and a lollipop man: a reflection not only of the makers themselves but also the splendours of the human imagination.

Let Us Clay! is no conventional theatre experience and the introvert among us may feel like taking cover at the idea of all that participation. But whilst it is odd ball and alternative and interactive and multi-sensory and other words which don't turn up in our understanding of orthodox theatre, it is also clever and comfortable and un-cliquey and, above all, it's fun.

"Let Us Clay!" has performances on Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th November at 9.30pm.

Suspense London Puppetry Festival runs to 8th November in seven venues across London. Additional performances of sold out shows have been added. Refer to the website for up to date information and booking - www.suspensefestival.com

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti