Back to 2015
Venue: RADA – George Bernard Shaw Theatre
I’m a pottery painter in my every day life, between other tasks, so I was intrigued by this story I hadn’t heard of, yet, when RADA announced their Autumn season and I decided to book for it. It was the first time I heard of a play on a pottery painter! That’s one element of New Writing I find great: it talks about people we can feel close to and understand. With big surprise, I found out that it was written in the ’90s of the XX Century and performed several times already and that Jessie Frost was inspired by a real woman called Clarice Cliff. How could have I missed both the play and the artist until then?
The story takes place inside a pottery factory where the staff is composed of five women and two men. Some of them are cheerful – like the protagonist Jessie Frost, a “bright and bold young lady” I would define her – some are nervous and look not so happy, but they work hard to give life to some wonderful pieces. At some point a new dynamic art director comes and understands the value of Jessie’s drawings, but brings problems with him because of his political ideas.
Amazing to think that the actors were RADA’s final year students, the level was high, I found them very convincing. In particular, Norah Lopez Holden, Laurence Stagg, Lowri Izzard and Issy Brazier-Jones.
The era is also fascinating to me. Art Deco was a great movement and a play dedicated to one of those artists who lived in a time when ideas on work and art – and consequently the society – where changing is stimulating!
Of course, is not easy to show on stage how a pottery factory works entirely, the actresses just pretended to paint plates and cups, but it was quite believable if you let your imagination run.
Only, thinking about the wonderful colors Clarice Cliff used, in my opinion the creatives could have used some of those patterns for the set design, some models inspired by her works put on walls or on easels, for example, while all the ceramics were left in white and I made efforts to imagine them painted. Call it professional deformation! I don’t know if it’s how this play is supposed to be staged. Should we call it “minimal theatre”?
But once more, Theatre, TV Series and Cinema make me find out always new, fascinating people who lived and died and in the between created wonderful Art.
Some words about the staging
On one side, the entrance where the workers leaved their coats on hall stands to wear gowns. Also, a clock and a time card rack on the same wall. At the centre of the stage, there were chairs and tables with white plates, cups, trays and some accessories for the decoration. Above, some light fittings. Opposite to the entrance, a big window divided the office from the laboratory. The same space was used as Jessie and Mabel’s flat and as the Rhys’ estate.
Costumes were in style with the ’30s, in light colors like grey, hazel brown and white, and gave idea of the difference between the workers and the wealthy people who managed the factory.
Clarice Cliff, the famous and much-collected painter of 1930’s pottery, was the inspiration for this play. The author, Peter Whelan, who died on 3 July 2014, had strong connections with the ceramic industry as he was brought up in Staffordshire and his father was a lithographic artist in the Potteries.
North Staffordshire Potteries 1930’s
In the North Staffordshire Potteries in the 1930’s, Jessie Frost works for a small traditional firm, hand painting traditional designs in the time honoured fashion… until the arrival of Jim Rhys as the firm’s new art director. A man possessed with both high ambition and strong views of the future, Jim’s views on design create tension with the factory owner, and his political beliefs gradually lead him into conflict within the small community. But in Jessie Frost, Jim recognises a special talent, one which he promptly sets out to nurture though not necessarily with her blessings. The result is a play of great warmth, charm, passion and grace, an exploration of the true nature of the art of politics, and the politics of art.
Page with information on RADA official site: rada.ac.uk
Gallery on RADA Facebook page: RoyalAcademyOfDramaticArt
Overview and photo of the theatre: actdrop.uk and stagejobspro.com
I searched some information about Clarice Cliff and Peter Whelan, so below there are some interesting links on them:
- The Original Clarice Cliff Website claricecliff.com,
- The Clarice Cliff Website claricecliff.co.uk both sites with amazing galleries of her works,
- Clarice Cliff style designs By Chris Rogers rogerschris51.wordpress.com his friend met her in 1961 all his beautiful work is inspired by Clarice Cliff,
- Peter Whelan obituary theguardian.com, unfortunately the playwright died last year aged 82
Cast& creatives list with RADA profile and Twitter accounts:
Writer Peter Whelan (1991)
Director Robert Hastie
Designer Janet Bird (@theatrebird ?)
Lighting Designer Sam House
Sound Designer Nathan Hamilton
Voice Coach Zabarjad Salam
Dialect Coach Helen Ashton @HelenAccents
Music Coach Tom Wakeley @tomwakeley53
Movement Coach Sinead O’Keeffe
Fight Coach Philip d’Orléans
Production team on the RADA’s page.
RADA London @RADA_London