Performed in the enormous space of The Substation in Newport, Swamp Juice is a shadow puppetry show assembled from the refuse and junk of our disposable society. Created by Bunk Puppets and Manny Fox, it’s an innovative work about the ethics and morality of how we treat and interact with the natural world.
Jeff Achtem dominates the stage as puppet master, establishing narrative codes and conventions that are used throughout the work. His energy and comic timing has both adults and children in stiches. The world created is quirky and complex; an imaginative environment that rivals creative giants such as Dr Seuss and Walter Mowers.
The plot, however minimalistic, is eloquent in its simple truthfulness. Snails, snakes and birds get caught by a man who attempts to make the animals eat one another. The subtext of the story, which has no dialogue, is about having respect for the life that exists around us, a lesson that the protagonist learns through his journey. Ultimately, it is a message against greediness.
There is something beautiful about its DIY junkyard aesthetic, which reminds us of the manifold uses of those objects we thoughtlessly discard. By rejuvenating society’s junk, Swamp Juice creates a life-affirming experience. We are made to hold up broken toys and wear old clothes, as they cast a shadow onto the simple white sheet hanging onstage, where shadows perform a complex dance and tell a simple story. With expressive eyes and diverse characters, the shadows come to life under the technical mastery of Achtem. It’s a constant reminder of life beyond life, of rejuvenation and the potential for change.
Between the kooky energy of Achtem and the fantastic live music played by Tristian Kelly, David Henry and Nick Carver, Swamp Juice will certainly elicit a laugh, and maybe some tears with its story and broad-reaching resolution of compassion; a welcome tonic to the complications of our age.
It is touring nationally until May 2015, so better catch it before it leaves.