FRINGE REVIEW – Swamp Juice

*****

Canadian puppeteer and clown Jeff Achtem may have grown up but he never stopped playing. But these days his childlike imagination wins him the acclaim of critics and the adoration of audiences around the world.

Achtem’s style appears deceptively low-fi, with the puppets created from recognisable bits of junk often visibly held together with string and tape. However this DIY ethos is belied by the technical intricacy
of Achtem’s show. Often employing all four limbs and even his head, this is clearly a finely honed production.

Achtem had a sleeper hit with last year’s sleeper hit ‘Sticks, Stones, Broken Bones’, but he has clearly upped his ante. The previous show was a series of vignettes, the puppets expressive yet rough and often created onstage (an aspect sadly but understandably missing from ‘Swamp Juice’), apparently the work of a unique artists testing the waters. This hour-long narrative features more technically refined puppets (whilst retaining the original ethos) and even a hint of character development.

The much-lauded 3D finale evokes spontaneous gasps of wonder from the packed audience, and the participatory sequence has even the most jaded adults clamouring to join in. As with last year’s show, the behind-the-scenes contortions Achtem uses to bring his puppets to life are almost as entertaining as the story itself. And his onstage clowning is both the perfect transition between acts and a reassuring
presence for any nervous children in the audience.

This show is suitable for children, but don’t let them have all the fun. ‘Swamp Juice’ brings out the child in everyone.


4-28 Aug (not 15) 1400 (1500) @ Underbelly

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