Theatre Direct presents Animacy Theatre Collective’s production of Finding Home: A Salmon Journey up the Humber River. The Humber River itself, running alongside King’s Mill Park, provides an appropriate backdrop for this endearing tale of two salmon BFFs discovering their place in nature’s grand design. Aimed at children aged 5 to 10, the show features charismatic performances, puppetry and live musical accompaniment.
Created and performed by Alexandra Simpson and Morgan Brie Johnson, the story takes us on a journey with Beagle and Sojo as they trek from Lake Ontario up the Humber. Sojo has reached maturity and is preparing to spawn, Beagle is there to support her friend and share the adventure. Along the way, they learn about their changing bodies, encounter a wise old rock to guide them and come to understand and appreciate life and, eventually, death.
Simpson and Johnson cover some basic information about the lifecycle of salmon and consistently hold the young audience’s attention with compelling characterizations. They examine heavy notions like the strain that unsynchronized development can put on youthful friendships and the frightening reality of death—all while maintaining a playful atmosphere. With clarity and insight, they convey a world where decay is not just inevitable, but necessary and beautiful.
Because it must be quick and fun, it is too easy to overlook the intense difficulty of planning and mounting truly effective children’s entertainment. Pandering spectacle can often reign supreme. Finding Home doesn’t have a lot of flash; instead, the performers, designer Nina Keogh and director Rebecca Northan offer up simple details that are whimsical and evocative. They foster a gentle yet firm emotionality that hits all of its marks—every time, perfectly.
The cute and clever costumes are both fashionable and reveal key aspects of salmon anatomy! As self-declared “rockstars” of the fish world, their outfits convey that confidence. Grey with frilly pink accents at the fringes, the aesthetic is a radical blend of 1920s flapper, ballerina and punk rocker.
The child-friendly humour also has some clever set-ups and payoffs for the adults. I laughed out loud during the scene in which Beagle needs to have her eggs fertilized by a “boy salmon.” Annoyed yet resigned to the fact that she must be bothered with boys at all, she calls one over to do his part. This fertilization event ends up being a hilariously practical and efficient bit of business.
The show opens and closes with a musical number featuring some cheeky lyrics to establish their “rockstar” status and proclaim their motto: “swim fast, lay eggs, leave a beautiful corpse.” The original music—composed and performed by Stefan Hegerat, Sabine Ndalamba and Anders Azzopardi—also provides ample mood and comic punctuation throughout.
The show closes this weekend. Two performances on Sunday—morning and afternoon—are your last chance to catch it. I wish I had been able to see this earlier in the run and help spread the word sooner—that Finding Home is a fine example of truly inspiring children’s theatre.