A shadow puppet menagerie with a 3D finale – Swamp Juice
I went to see a children’s show last week as part of the Jump In Children’s Festival. I ventured there alone as the listing said it may be unsuitable for under sevens and I didn’t want JD to be scared, so I sat to the side in a darkened theatre at Lincoln’s Drill Hall, trying not feel conspicuous as the only adult there sans kids.
Within five minutes of the beginning of the hour-long performance, I couldn’t have cared less. It was superb. The children were enthralled, their giggles were delightful and the performance was so skilled, so perfectly executed I could have cried.
I’ve seen a lot of live theatre, I’ve sat in a tiny private masterclass with Patrick Stewart as he shared the secrets of the Merchant of Venice, I’ve watched grown men weep uncontrollably at Death of a Salesman and seen a perfectly timed performance of The Country Wife that would make E.L. James blush. I’ve also seen terrible performances, including one West End production of Sam Shepard’s Fool For Love that was so bad my sister and I still cringe at the memory of it six years later. Anyway, I digress.
Swamp Juice is simple, it’s childish, but it’s also a truly magnificent piece of theatre. It’s not purely a shadow puppet show. You’re immersed in the world of the puppet master – a strange, Steampunk -influenced, swamp-dwelling creature played by the show’s Canadian creator, Jeff Achtem aka Bunk Puppets.
His puppets are made of surreal pieces of junk – paper, wool, broken toys – covered in simple scrawls. But when he holds them up to the light, they’re transformed into perfect silhouettes on the screen. A sleeve and an oddly fashioned scrap of card becomes a snail with a depressive disposition, complete with sad, blinking eyes. He peers at the audience, voiced by our swamp creature, and so the story begins.
I won’t say too much about what happens as I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t seen it yet, but I will say that the original musical score is very strong and the 3D finale – as advertised on the poster – is a thing of wonder. The audience – adults and children – were gasping and cooing with joy as they donned 3D glasses and watched the end of the story unfold.
The plot is quite dark in places, hence the recommended viewing age, but having seen it for myself I would take JD along. I think reassurance from parents that it all turns out alright in the end would help mature four to six year olds cope with the darker moments – and it would be well worth it.
Disclosure: I was given a press ticket to Swamp Juice free-of-charge for the purposes of this review. No payment was received. All reviews are 100% honest.