Park Theatre, London – until 29 April 2017
The colour is brighter, the sounds louder and the physical acting bolder in this family-friendly show that appeals to deaf and hearing audiences alike. Finders Keepers is a biblically-inspired story with a modern update – Mr Pharaoh (Clare-Louise English) and Daughter (Jo Sargeant) have their simple lives interrupted when a baby is abandoned on their doorstep. Except the baby is a puppet. And no-one speaks. And the house is a bit of a dump (literally).
Every action, mannerism and thought process is externalised and overstated – obvious to the adult but appealing and magical to the child within. Never has waking up, going to the toilet and cooking breakfast seemed more interesting and comical. Perhaps it’s the spectacles and large nose combo on Mr Pharaoh, or the buck teeth on Daughter. Maybe it’s the care they take over their daily ablutions despite the fact they are constantly swatting at flies, wiping breakfast on their trousers and smearing themselves in dirt. The everyday rituals, the monotony of the routine, is suddenly exciting as if seen through new eyes; the normal becomes abnormal.
Sargeant and English are an affable family, conveying affection and love through the little touches – swapping loo roll for the papers in the morning; making cups of undrinkable tea for one another; the ‘kiss and catch’ goodbye before dad goes off to work. There is a friendly competition typical of a family unit too – who can take the biggest gulp of the muddy water? Who can find the biggest napkin to tuck into their shirts before tucking into the evening meal of freshly cooked rat? It is the Daughter (Sargeant) though that captures the attention and the imagination of the audience with her innocence and naturally maternal instinct despite not having a mother around. She says goodnight to dad and then gets out teddy to get it ready for bed too – feeding, burping, nappy change and talcum powder, the perfect routine. Practice for when the real thing (or its puppet equivalent) comes along.
The baby introduces chaos into their structure; abandoned under the cover of an ethereal night time, courtesy of Marine Le Houëzec’s soft blue lighting, Laura Merryweather’s luminescent set and Chris Drohan’s atmospheric composition. Comedy creeps in, with neither character having a clue at being a parent, despite reading “An Idiot’s Guide to Being A Parent”. Managing to stop the baby’s cries generates an almost ecstatic outcry as each character warms to the child and swiftly adapts their routine to fit in, business as usual with a triad instead of a duo. The puppetry is subtle and life-like, seamlessly fitting the baby into the daily chores. Belly laughs abound when trying to stay quiet so the baby doesn’t wake up – telling the children in the audience to be quiet results in anything but.
By the time the final scene comes around and the mother returns to reclaim her child, everyone is fully connected to Daughter (Sargeant) and Mr Pharaoh (English), their pain shared around the room at doing the right thing and returning the child to its parent. In the space of an hour, Finders Keepers conveys the normality of the characters and integrates them fully with the audience. That is the gift of the performers, who take a scant plotline and turn it into a memorable experience for adult and child alike.