(Originally published here)
The award-winning Swamp Juice – from Bunk Puppets and Scamp Theatre – dazzles and entertains audiences of all ages. A story for children yet made with stagecraft for all, the puppeteering in this gloriously silly but astonishingly fun show is incomparable; the 3D sequence, in particular, must be seen to be believed.
Jeff Achtem performs his own devised piece to a three-person band, which provide a modest and technically astute backdrop to the otherwise solo show. The story is that of a swamp and the man who wants to dominate the animals in it. The only bit of discernible narrative is between the man and Birdy, an apparently nondescript chicken that flies, swims, and is extremely over-protective. We meet snails, worms, and monsters – and Achtem isn’t afraid to be scary, although he warns us of when he will be with the most charming of smiles – and travel on and through water.
However, the story doesn’t really matter. It is the brilliant and almost filmic sequences of shadow puppetry that delight the entire audience. The moments of audience interaction are not overplayed and there is never any sense of being patronised by Achtem, even when he is handing out inexplicably wobbly props to unsuspecting (but nonetheless willing) members of the audience. The equipment onstage is simple – mostly made of recognisable household objects – but has the power to astound. We can zoom in, cut between scenes, show two things at once, be in the dark but still see, and have fish fly in our faces.
The 3D sequence deserves a special mention as one of the most astounding visual effects that I have ever seen in a theatre. Although you don’t think it will be successful, the outstanding innovation behind this piece of work had grown men ducking in their seats to avoid being hit by a jellyfish – or rather, the shadow of a jellyfish, most likely made out of something as simple as tissue paper.
This is family entertainment at its best – adults will be as interested in Swamp Juice as children. It’s sure to be a hot ticket and will sell out quickly – there were people standing in the aisles on its first night – so book early to watch this remarkable performance.