Swamp Juice – Review – Grassington Festival

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Swamp Juice – Review

Grassington Festival, June 2012

by Alexandra Glacet

Imagine if you will, an eclectic mix of sights and sounds. Shadows and shapes thrown together by what can only be described as a Nutty Professor-esque character. You have a loose idea of what Swamp Juice is about.

Swamp-Juice-reviewHowever, to fully appreciate this wondrous spectacle you need to take into account the immense amount of effort, love and pure passion that has gone into this puppetry masterpiece. The audience oohs with delight as the vision of puppet master and host, Jeff Achtem, takes them on a journey through the swamp of his mind. He delves into the psyche of the characters he creates.

The beautiful shadow puppets comet to life in a way that I’ve never seen before. This is much more than the way you may have made rabbits with your hands as a child to entertain your siblings – much, much more.

“Children are mesmerised”

The faces of each of the puppets had a character all of their own. They have moving eyes and an ingenious use of a whole host of ‘rubbish’ to give the illusion of hair and texture. Jeff himself interacts with the crowd at all times. Either through his puppets or with the sounds the nutty professor makes while changing scenes.

puppet silhouettesChildren are mesmerised by the way the professor holds their attention. Even asking them to hold aloft various random items given to them. These provide an interactive shadow backdrop for ‘Birdy’. Although the show perfectly aims towards children over seven, the uniqueness of Swamp Juice takes adults into a far off land. If not back to their childhood, then at least to the part of the brain where they’re left trying to work out how it is so seamlessly executed.

“Rapturous applause and sheer amazement”

After the majority of the show, which takes place on the stage with audience participation from the front rows, Jeff comes running into the crowd. He hands out 3D glasses at lightening speed. Now, for many this will be the first time they’re wearing these glasses. I am no exception. A quick stage change, lights dim and the already bizarre world transforms into a three dimensional wonderland.

The story continues as the swamp monster pursues Birdy from the mouth of a sea creature and into the air. The audience ducking and shrieking as the puppets come to life and give the illusion of leaping into laps. The show ends to rapturous applause and sheer amazement on the faces of the onlookers. Kids and adults alike are praising every part of the performance. I myself will remember Swamp Juice for years to come. I hope that the Canadian performer brings his next creative display to Grassington when he tours.

Photos: Andrew Wuttke

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