Adelaide Fringe 2014
A delightful journey of discovery with shadow puppetry, audience participation, incredible music, (and amazing 3D bits as well). Swamp Juice is an amazingly crafted experience, whose surprises are no less magical for their simplicity.
Jeff Achtem is absolute master of the worlds he creates. Fantastic landscapes populated by creatures of all shapes and sizes flying, swimming, creeping and crawling all over the place. We’ve come along to the matinee show and it is packed, the crowd fairly buzzing with children no higher than my waist, but everyone goes quiet as Achtem comes out and starts his act. Even though he is going to be pulling off some incredible magic during the next hour he starts off by revealing the nature of his creations – two dimensional concoctions of cardboard and ribbon, feather and foam. We are shown the tools behind the trade before we are wowed despite having just been shown how it’s all done. But it really is like magic, the creatures coming to life and swimming across our vision as we are carried along by the current of Achtem’s swift wits and the mystical ambience created by the three piece band (Milush Piochaud, Martin Ritolo, and Sean Kare) sitting just upstage.
Everything is done in plain sight. We are given illusion only once we know how it will be accomplished, but somehow this doesn’t take away from the wonder of it. Achtem knows how to work his audience – grunting, snuffling, and push-pulling us along with him on this journey into the unknown. The technical wizardry is top notch and the showmanship a pleasure to behold. The scary bits (when they come) are devilish, though Achtem takes the teeth out a little bit by warning us and teaching us an important coping technique. I overhear one six year-old girl telling her friend that she’s “sure to have nightmares tonight!” but there are plenty of giggles so it’s probably mainly youthful bravado.
Swamp Juice is an entertaining something different – It gives us hope to see so many small people (who spend their lives immersed in a mass media soaked, CGI conjured miasma of electronic distraction) so engrossed in such an organic live experience – wood and paper, cardboard and yarn, jittering and yammering as if alive. The kids are eating it up and guess what? So are all the tall people in the room.