Edinburgh Fringe 2011
A fantastical show for all ages, Swamp Juice is a brilliantly-executed piece of theatre and a masterful exhibition of shadow puppetry.
When you go to the den of tricks that is the set of Swamp Juice, we meet odd looking performer Jeff Achtem, who is some eccentric uncle and mad scientist amalgam. The set is full of indistinguishable, home-made looking props which we will discover are an array of very clever little shadow puppets, all made by Achtem. He asks us for an “ooh” and then an “aah”, and then a few more “oohs” and “aahs”, to get us in the mood to be amazed – and amazed we certainly were.
With incredible artistry and precision, we see the story of the slightly sinister and very overbearing man who lives in the swamp and interacts with the creatures: some worm-like things, a frog and a cute bird. The puppets have an incredible range of expression, with the slightest movement of their eyes conveying everything they were experiencing. The expression was aided by some funny little sound effects provided by Achtem – a couple of words here and there, a gurgle, a slurp. The man goes about lording it over the rest of the swamp creatures, but meets his comeuppance in the form of something much bigger than he is.
For the first half of the show the screen is angled in such a way that favours one side of the audience, and for those of us on the other side there was a lot of unfortunate neck craning. The second half however a new, end-on screen provides a much better angle, and the audience are enlisted in the fun, with Achtem setting up a fabulous scene with a lot of depth and texture by giving a couple of rows props and instructions.
Then the major drawcard of this show is that we then get 3D glasses and get to watch three dimensional shadow puppetry. Genuine, popping out of the screen 3D shadow puppetry. I don’t know how he does it but it was incredibly effective. The beginning of the show saw some artificially elicited ooh-ing and aah-ing but there was nothing forced about those that seemed to escape involuntarily from our mouths in response to the shadowy figures swooping towards us in the darkness in this thoroughly thrilling.