Among the knickknacks piled high in Mr. Pharaoh’s junkyard, there is a broken clock, frozen in time. And while this clock doesn’t stand out among the eclectic ingenuities surrounding it (all designed by Laura Merryweather), it works as a rather nice symbol for the experience of Finders Keepers.
Now playing at the Park Theatre, and staged by the deaf-accessible company Hot Coals Theatre, Finders Keepers is a mirthful and profound 70-minutes of wordless storytelling: time stops (and flies by) in this glorious adaptation of a familiar tale of biblical proportions.
The plot is a simple one: Mr. Pharaoh (Clare-Louise English) and his daughter (Jo Sargeant) live and work in a run-down junkyard, and their lives are upended by the surprise appearance of a little guy in the bulrushes. (A copy of “Exodus News” sits atop the stove lest we mistake what story we’re in.) What makes the play pop and crackle is the inventive staging under the direction of Caroline Parker (who, separately from Hot Coals, has developed a celebrated silent cabaret song style based on BSL), and the two joyous, enthusiastic performances. English, a young woman, physically summons the essence of rickety old Mr. Pharaoh with aplomb, while Sargeant’s bucktoothed Daughter registers as an endearing clowny combination of Lucille Ball and YouTube sensation Miranda Sings.
Finders Keepers collapses disability. Going into the play, I knew that one of the performers was partially deaf and the other was hearing. I could never tell which was which – even though Finders Keepers pulsates with a driving, rhythmic energy, auditory ability has no impact on these two gifted actresses, breathing and dancing in tandem. And to reveal that auditory distinction now would be to undermine the play’s unspoken message: it doesn’t matter.
Even more importantly, though, the Hot Coals team has ensured that deaf and hearing audiences can have congruent experiences of the play as well. Every sound cue is accompanied by a clarifying lighting change or gesture: a siren in the distance comes with the flash of a patrol car, and every time a baby cries, there is a quick flicker of light and the actors cover their ears (the critical lighting design is by Marine Le Houëzec). And while Chris Drohan has penned some charming, adventurous underscoring, his music’s purpose is to cease to matter: the last fifteen minutes, somehow both winsome and devastating, proceed in absolute silence, and we realize that we can understand good storytelling without the aid of either speech or a musical score.
Finders Keepers also collapses age. Despite some raunchy jokes that will thankfully soar over the heads of any youngsters in the audience, the play works wonders for the grown-ups and the kids. Two children in the front row, probably each about five years old, threatened to steal the show on press night with their giddy, giggly responses to the physical comedy. Sargeant and English gamely incorporated their excitement into the performance.
But the play’s heartfelt, occasionally wrenching dive into the core of what it means to be a parent and to build a family belongs to the adults in attendance, and the cast delivers poignancy and playfulness in equal measure.
Hot Coals Theatre has crafted a piece that’s physical theatre at its very best: Finders Keepers is a springtime must-see event.
Finders Keepers is playing at the Park Theatre until 29 April.