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A CurtainUp London London Review
Swamp Juice

by Sebastian King

It's not real, it's not a documentary, they're just puppets. The nightmares are real but the puppets aren't. — Jeff
Swamp Juice
Jeff Achtem with one of his creations
(Photo: Andrew Wuttke)
On the back of a sell-out run at the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Swamp Juice,-a collaboration between Montrealís Bunk Puppets and the UK-based Scamp Theatre, comes to Soho Theatre on the first leg of its four-month-long UK tour. Aimed at a family audience, the show has already garnered a host of awards and glowing reviews. No mean feat for a one-man puppet show. But then, this is no ordinary puppet show. And puppeteer Jeff Achtem is certainly no ordinary man.

From the moment we enter the auditorium, it is clear that the audience is in for something a little out of the ordinary. The stage is strewn with intriguing looking kit, and a washing line from which hangs chtemís collection of handmade shadow puppets. In amongst the clutter sits Achtem himself, sorting through the debris, and occasionally letting out a manic laugh — amplified to the audience loudly thanks to the microphone he wears throughout the show.

With his collection of shadow puppets made from household objects and bits of rubbish, Achtem takes us on journey in and around the swamp, introducing us to its various inhabitants through short shadow sketches. The main thrust of the plot tracks a slightly sinister human on his quest to hunt down and capture ĎBirdieí — a quick-witted and seemingly invincible bird. Along the way we meet a hiccupping frog, a farting mouse, and a giant swamp beast to name but a few.

The real magic of this puppet show is that itís just as entertaining to watch Achtem as it is to watch his silhouetted characters. He bounds around the auditorium juggling puppets, flicking lights on and off, and distributing props to the audience, all with mathematical precision, all the while giving the impression of impromptu chaos. We may have all tried making our own shadow puppets with our hands, but Achtem does not stop there, with various parts of his own body — including his spit-slicked hair — taking on a life of their own in his projections.

At the end of the performance, Achtem asks his audience not to tell anybody too much about the final sequence, although all the publicity for the show makes reference to the Ďjaw-dropping 3D finaleí may well give the surprise away, so I donít think itíll spoil it too much for you to say that the aforementioned finale definitely lives up to this hype.

Achtem definitely knows how to entertain an audience and Swamp Juice keeps gathering momentum over the course of its short running time. Donít be fooled by thinking that this is just one for the kids — this is magical comedy genius that really needs to be seen to be believed.



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Swamp Juice
Devised and performed by Jeff Achtem for Bunk Puppets
Original musical score by David Henry, Nick Carver, Tristan Kelley

Running time: 55 minutes without an interval
Box Office: †020 8985 2424
Booking at Soho Theatre to 5th May 2012, then touring throughout the UK until 15th July at the Latitude Festival.
Reviewed by Sebastian King based on 20th April performance at Soho Theatre, 21 Dean Street, London W1D 3NE (Tube: Tottenham Court Road)


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