Adelaide Fringe 2011
Swamp Juice is the story of six shadow puppets who live in a murky swamp. Caught up in a series of events that leads to each of their capture; the puppet show comes to a dramatic end when the protagonist must decide what to do with his "birdie". Swamp Juice may be a puppet show and the characters are, for the most part, creepy crawlies… however, Swamp Juice is a performance that will captivate adults and children alike. A short 50 minute play, Swamp Juice will entertain from begining to end and culminates in a particularly impressive scene that takes the whole audience inside the swamp where the play is set.
Swamp Juice would have to be one of the most endearing and genuinely funny performances hosted by the Garden of Unearthly Delights. The show consisted of a puppeteer, his delightfully quirky shadow puppets, and a couple of very effective moments of audience participation.
Swamp Juice is as much about the beautiful hand-made puppets and quaint story line, as it is about their amusing creator Jeff Achtem. We file into the puppet theatre to see a stage with a screen strung up, and a corner full of props and pieces of puppet. Jeff is scuttling around on the stage getting bits and pieces together and the night opens with that warm feeling that you get when you are going to see something unique and sincere in its simplicity.
That instinctual warmth holds its own throughout the hour long piece as Jeff introduces us to his snail, snake, birdie and swamp monster whilst teasing the audience gently – “it gets scary now” “be careful, this bit is the scary bit”. There was one little girl who kept her face buried in her father’s neck for the entire performance, but with that exception, adults and children alike were captivated by Jeff’s cardboard characters as they fought, ate and eventually connected with one another.
The story of Swamp Juice is simply the tale of six characters who live in a swamp; one of whom is a slightly maniacal man who systematically hunts the snail, the other snail, the snake and finally catches his “birdie”. Beyond that, the deep underlying moral message that we are so frequently encouraged to find in theatre escaped me (and I think, most of the audience) but that did not diminish the charm of confusing little piece of theatre.
The set was unique and charming. What looked like a clothes rack was propping up the most frequently used puppets and served as an edge to move other puppets along – back lit to project our swampy friends onto the screen. Off-screen the puppets simply looked like mangled cardboard with strange bits of tinsel and fluff stuck on them. On-screen however they transformed into black and white silhouettes who could talk, sqwark and ultimately be eaten by the shadowy swamp monster.
Swamp Juice as a whole was a slightly awkward performance that capitalised on Jeff’s capacity to engage with the crowd both through his own occasional commentary and through his cardboard cut outs. Jeff’s characters connected with both the children and the adults in the crowd making Swamp Juice a performance for all-ages.