Swamp Juice [FringeTIX]
Bunk Puppets @ Umbrella Revolution
2:30pm, Sun 19 Feb 2012
Thankfully it’s not as hot this afternoon as it was yesterday, though there’s still a bit of bite to the sun; the Umbrella Revolution still has a bit of heat in it, however, and the air-con isn’t having a significant impact on the stickiness in the air.
I read my flyer as I follow the masses of parents and kids in: “This show may frighten viewers under 7 yrs,” it says, and I wonder how many of the toddlers’ parents read that.
I swap seats a few times in an amiable attempt to keep all the parents and kids happy; staff are trying to squeeze everyone into the floor area of the Revolution, it’s getting pretty full, and they’re all going to be struggling a bit with the heat… and I’m half-worried that Mr Bunk may be as ill-prepared as his Friday night show was.
I shouldn’t have been worried, of course; Swamp Juice is a return of last year’s show (which I sadly couldn’t squeeze in), so both Mr Bunk and his techs have their schtick down cold. Bunk’s principle contraption gives him three performance spaces; a foot-operated switch allows him to swap between three lamps that project the appropriate space’s shadows onto the screen. And, from the moment Bunk comically waddles in through the crowd to his final bow, he’s constantly checking in with the audience – explaining plot points in that odd Yoda-ish voice of his, and bowing for applause at the end of each scene – a clever touch that keeps the kids’ interest levels up.
As for the story itself – well, it’s actually a bit of a sinister affair. A man – or is it a troll? – wants to capture a bird (“Here, Birdy-birdy,” he growls constantly), so he works up the bird’s food-chain – starting with snails. And when the spiky-snail took to the screen and started gruffly berating the smaller, smooth snail, a wail went up from a youngster in the audience. An articulate youngster. The second wail, which dominated any sound coming from the sound system, told everyone the problem: “I don’t like him! He scares me!” she screamed, and the adults chuckled in appreciation of the child’s frankness as its parent leads it from the tent.
The man eventually captures Birdy, and they aim to row a boat to another island in the swamp; they’re swallowed by a shark, however, and there’s a great bit of shadow-puppetry in the escape sequence, followed by a chase sequence – in shadow-projected 3D! The 3D effect – even whilst wearing the red/blue glasses over my own ocular assistance – proved surprisingly effective, with the children in the audience constantly exclaiming in surprise as Bunk swooped objects towards them. And it’s all wrapped up in a feel-good ending.
The style of Bunk’s puppets is instantly familiar to anyone who’s seen his other shows, with clean shadow-friendly shapes and expressive eyes. And Bunk’s use of his own form – snails chomp on the “grass” of his hair, and his arm forms a “hairy snake” – is vocally highlighted to the audience, who titter in appreciation. And his bits of audience participation – getting the aisle-bound to hold up objects which he would roam between, creating shadow-action with a small puppet and a torch – was really well done.
But I was surprised at just how scary and violent Swamp Juice was; it’s all comically performed, of course, but I’ve got a feeling that some of the parents who ignored the warning on the flyer may have been a bit more concerned. But that’s their problem: I loved Swamp Juice, both for the creativity of Mr Bunk and for the reactions of the kids in the audience.