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York Theatre Royal, York

A mother-to-be (Clare-Louise English) finds sanctuary in Mr. Pharaoh’s junk yard as she flees from the police. Not that Mr. Pharaoh (also played by English) or his Daughter (Jo Sargeant) have any idea that their home has become the host of the outlaw. Blissfully unaware, they invite the audience to watch them go about their usual business – trying to keep the copious flies at bay, making use of the out-of-order toilet, and organising some of the rubbish that surrounds their home. The father and daughter present a wholly contended life of slobbery – at least until the sun goes down and Mr. Pharaoh heads to bed. With the yard to herself, Daughter unveils her box of hidden treasures: a colouring book, a tin of formula, bottle, nappy, and bib. A teddy bear makes the (almost) perfect recipient of all these gems, and of Daughter’s doting affection. Having witnessed the love Daughter showered on her teddy bear, the runaway mother leaves her baby for Daughter to care for, with a note that simply reads “Love me”. After convincing her father to keep the baby, Daughter and Pharaoh initially struggle to adjust to life with this unexpected and demanding new addition to their family. Yet by opening their hearts, they find that he is an addition that brings a new sense of purpose to their lives. Together, the trio form a bond which is not easily broken when the baby’s mother inevitably returns.

With no spoken word and spare use of sound effects, Finders Keepers does an excellent job of showing us just how much can be conveyed through action and facial expressions. The father-daughter duo build an instant rapport from their first appearance, giving the audience the odd sly look of complicity or cheeky grin as they go about making mischief, often at each other’s expense. The production revels in the silly, teeming with absurdity and full of effortlessly choreographed slapstick. One particular sequence, in which an unfortunately aimed swing of a saucepan is acted out in slow motion, leaves even Sargeant and English tickled, but far from removing one from the world of the performance, the moment emphasises the sheer joy encompassed in the show. Gross-out and toilet humour make their appearances, but do not saturate the seventy minute production, and much of the humour strikes the right balance in appeal to the young and old(er) in the audience. There were even a few gags which flew over the heads of the child spectators but evoked peals of laughter from the adults: two children in the audience were left confused when Mr. Pharaoh’s shock and horror at a copy of the Kama Sutra he stumbles across had their mother almost choking with laughter.

Yet the show is not without its sentiment, and is certainly moving in parts. Both English and Sargeant make full and wonderful use of facial expression in their roles as the baby’s mother and mother figure to convey the unconditional love one experiences in parenthood and the desperate heartbreak endured by the loss, even if only temporary, of a child. The climax underlines the deeper theme of the power of familial love in the face of change and hardship, as Mr. Pharaoh gives a stiff-upper-lipped goodbye to Daughter, encouraging her to leave the junk yard to find the mother and baby. Mr. Pharaoh’s serene smile as he sits alone and recalls the sound of the baby’s gurgle brings the play to a touching but not saccharine end. The artful combination of humour and sorrow in Finders Keepers makes for a thoroughly enjoyable and charming watch. English and Sargeant’s performances exhibit tremendous physical acting skill and make the play a true delight. This production by Hot Coals Theatre successfully highlights what is possible without the use of words, delivering a compelling and very endearing piece of theatre.

  • Comedy
  • Written and Devised by Hot Coals Theatre.
  • Directed by Caroline Parker.
  • Performed by Jo Sargeant and Clare-Louise English
  • York Theatre Royal, York
  • 17th March 2018

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