PICA Performance Space
Review: Amy Nicholas
Swamp Juice oozes charm. A muddy adventure and truly innovative shadow play, Swamp Juice will delight both the young and young at heart.
There is nothing apologetic about this show. As you wander in to PICA, pink light shines enough on the milk-crates and masking-tape set and the handmade puppets strung on a washing line to let you know the kind of fun you're in for.
Barefoot performer, Canadian Jeff Achtem, sits cross legged, appearing to still be setting up his cardboard puppets.
Swamp Juice begins as basic shadow puppetry 101 explained through mostly grunts and nods. With lights and switches exposed, the audience is shown how this 'switchy switch' makes these lights go 'boom boom'.
A rare puppeteer who refuses to hide in the shadows, Achtem not only acknowledges the technicality of the performance but honours its inherent playfulness.
Like a magician exposing his tricks, Achtem proves a lack of dependence on mystery to create magic.
Props and puppets, handcrafted from bits and pieces with glue and crayons, are littered around the stage as each scene's drama unfolds and a bedsheet screen. The politics of bickering snails, moral dilemmas of neurotic snakes and adventures of a reckless baby bird play out in what can easily be described as a live cartoon.
The makeshift nature of the puppets and set complements a technically excellent production. The skill of the performer is evident in the sophisticated and endearing body language of his creepy crawly characters.
Offering no resistance the audience were drawn deep into Achtem's swamp tale. Our hands and heads eagerly joined in as by flashlight the audience become part the set. The real excitement came as Achtem's finale (a chase scene, of course) was lifted off the sheet with the help 3D glasses.
Still grinning as I left PICA, I was surprised with a warm handshake, a program and thanks from the performer himself. As the person sitting next to me put it, "That was really awesome."
Sophisticated, gripping and playful, this is one to see.
Swamp Juice runs until February 1.