Sunday, 9 April 2017

Review Finders Keepers

Finders Keepers
Devised And Performed By Hot Coals Theatre

Bringing Up Baby

The set is small scale delight, Pharoah & Daughter's Junkyard combining the vibe of a tree house, Wendy house with a climbing frame and even an ensuite of sorts which provides a recognition of the mundane with laughs.

The good things continue: the starlit sky, the slightly mucky friendly rodent-like creatures. One is very definitely the harried and sometimes stern but still affectionate comically bespectacled father figure of the scavenging household (Clare-Louise English in ratty Groucho Marx nose and glasses).

The other is the daughter (Jo Sargeant) who hides a bear, with baby accoutrements, in a trunk that she mothers. But she then has to put those skills and her own affections to work after an unexpected discovery, accompanied by a note expressing words even those with very basic reading skills can understand.

There's the repetition of equally basic everyday activities which any child and grown up can also recognize  causing giggles and guffaws of delight.  Another character is graceful and dignified enough to entrance but is very definitely a human  young woman (Claire-Louise English again) in a coat and scarf.

By the end of the play, directed by Caroline Parker, the daughter has had the strongest arc but a sense of loss was nicely dispersed by the final energetic final bow of all the characters and puppet back together and smiling.

But then ... We really weren't at all sure about the relevance of the title Finders Keepers - however much we tried to make it fit in our minds. The same goes for the story of Moses in the bulrushes on which the show is said to be based.

It perhaps wasn't such a good idea to provide the bible story premise before the show, as it was a source of mild frustration for TLT and her Sunday Schooled jalopy to find that the biblical story didn't correlate that much with what was placed before us.

Far better, we thought, to let the audience be intrigued by the name of the junkyard and a newspaper headline, picking up their own clues and, maybe, such disparities wouldn't matter so much.

Also, if, for instance, parents read the original story with their child beforehand as either a secular or religious text, knowing that they were going to this show, both might end up rather confused. This bewilderment rather overwhelmed the more grown-up elements introduced in the titles of books held up for us to see.

In fact, there were times, especially with the costuming of the young human lady that it felt more like a World War II  evacuation or a refugee story.

There are lots of wonderful moments with a lovely picture-book set (original design Laura Merryweather, adapted for the Park Theatre by Jo Seargeant and James Humby with lighting by Marine Le Houëzec), but we felt this was a play more targetted at the very young with its repetitions and very slight storyline.

The puppetry was delightful with a feel-good subtext that anybody can be part of a loving family, even if not blood kin.

However the play was more about character than story and once the characters were established, it felt as if there were nowhere to go. It might also be worth mentioning, while it does have an all-female cast, the roles are traditional with Dad venturing out to the outside world every day.

As a barometer, the kids in the audience, from very small to top primary school age loved the initial establishment of the junkyard daily routine (as did we!) but seemed to also sense that the story lost its way at times.

Nevertheless the happiest and saddest parts were pitched at the correct level for the children, even if it felt like a jigsaw not quite fitting together but quite colourful and characterful enough to attract a TLT amber light.

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