Edinburgh Fringe 2016
Family-friendly and deaf-inclusive physical comedy about two tramps who are left looking after a baby. Deliciously gross and full of dirty jokes of the entirely literal kind relating to mud and cleanliness, Finders Keepers is a slapstick play based on the story of Moses with more than a slight nod to Roald Dahl.
Loosely based on the story of Moses, Finders Keepers finds us in a junkyard owned by the filthy Mr Pharaoh and his daughter. They pass their lives sorting through scrap as they swat flies, eat various gross concoctions and pass the loo roll back and forward between them on their way to the outside toilet, which they take great pleasure in using. Think Old Testament through the medium of Roald Dahl and you’ll get the picture.
With its combination of mime, slapstick humour and puppetry, Finders Keepers throws a variety of physical media into the pot to create an intentionally silly comedy that works for all ages. Children will enjoy the endearing characters and the toilet humour, but there’s plenty to make adults laugh too in this funny and endearing story of what happens when a young girl on the run from the police abandons her baby in a junkyard and the Pharaoh family find themselves forced to improvise to take care of it.
Jo Sergeant is particularly engaging as the daughter, with her wide-eyed facial expressions when she makes cheeky eye contact with the audience, looking astonished to find people there when she wakes up in the morning or checking for a reaction as she does something yucky.
Clare-Louise English’s Pharaoh also amusingly captures the scratching, trouser sorting movements of an old man, but she could have done with a little more facial hair in addition to the joke shop glasses and eyebrows, as there was a lot of smooth young skin on show, which detracted from the impression of age.
The two manage the puppetry well for the most part, giving the baby sweet little movements as they bath it and care for it, although they do need to take care to cover the very prominent handle sticking out the back of the baby’s head when they turn its back to the audience.
Some more thought might also need to go into the location of the action, which much of it taking place at ground level. At this performance it was possible to shift around to see everything, but had there been people sitting in the front row, substantial parts of what was happening would have been obscured for those sitting behind. A little more care needs to be taken in terms of noise control by the venue too, as there was the sound of conversations from out in the hall during the performance.
There is no dialogue in Finders Keepers and care is taken to make it fully accessible to anyone who is hard of hearing, with any sounds relevant to the plot accompanied by a physical action to indicate what can be heard. One exception was the sirens at the beginning, which could perhaps have been accompanied by blue lights for a visual reflection of the sound.
While sound is intentionally not necessary to follow Finders Keepers, and there is no dialogue, it is nevertheless used well, most notably in the catchy dance track Pharaoh and daughter wake to every morning, which has the buzzing sound of flies neatly woven into it, and comic use of descriptive sound every time they open a parenting book. The lighting too is simple but effective, with white lighting for day and blue for night.
The homemade, naïve set, constructed of bits of cardboard and fabric, works perfectly for the junkyard setting and also allows for changes of height as they clamber inside it and on top of it. One thing that jarred a little was the piece of blue cloth laid down to symbolise a river. As well as not being immediately obvious what it was, given that the rest of the Moses story had been removed from its original setting, the use of the river and reeds seemed a little too literal in comparison and only made sense if you were aware of the story Finders Keepers is based on.
It made for some odd kinks in the plot too, with the Pharaohs for no apparent reason putting the baby in a washing basket in the river when they’re not sure they want to keep it and people leaving the junkyard by walking through the river even though there is obviously another entrance. Some more thought could go into whether the river is really necessary in this reworked version of the story and what would make more sense in the setting.
Although there a few details in this show that still have room for further development, they don’t serious detract from the overall sense of infectious fun. Finders Keepers is a highly entertaining and deliciously vulgar family show for all ages that will have you cringing at the grossness, laughing at the antics and will even tug a little at your heart strings in its portrayal of the loves and longings of a very atypical little family.