Performance review: SWAMP

Australian wildlife as played out in dark and violent puppetry.

Snuff Puppets boasts an incredible 30-year run, and chose to celebrate this anniversary with the world premiere of SWAMP. The company has a legacy of crude and thought-provoking performances, and the hour-long performance of SWAMP was no exception. 

The title is not particularly indicative of what the show entails, alluding instead to an exploration of Australian wildlife, from the mosquito to the invasive cane toad. The audience favourite was undoubtedly the cheeky magpie, who poked and prodded other animals with its beak, at one stage even tossing baby gecko skeletons to the floor, warbling at the display.  

It was a morbid show: each performer was encased in a costume of guts within the creature they were puppeteering, and they made sure you saw it. Animals were hit by cars, ate each other, and revealed the bones and entrails within.

In one instance, an electric guitar riff played loudly as the audience watched a koala being burnt alive. The uncomfortable commentary was strong and there was no doubt what was being called to attention. And yet the music was so much more memorable than the scene itself, and so the imagery of the animal in crisis lost the power it should have had. Its cries were lost in the song. The guitar too was a striking outlier against the music in the rest of the show. 

At times the pacing was slow, as we simply watched a puppet carefully trawl offstage, trying not to fall over. They are gigantic works of incredible art, but is the scale worthwhile when a third of the show is just someone going from point A to B? They were limited in their ability; not a single word was spoken in the entire duration of SWAMP. It resembled a parade more than anything. 

The ending was what tied it together, with the skeletal carcasses of each animal appearing as one, a large beating heart for all to see. The final message was clear, and it appeared throughout the show: a story of life, but more so of death, and of the cycle of nature.  

Read: Performance review: Mysteries: Creation and Passion

SWAMP was dirty, dark and bloody. It was a performance swaddled in the love of its creators, and it’s hard to not recognise it in each aspect of the show, from the costumes to the sound production.  

Snuff Puppets

Footscray Drill Hall, Melbourne
SWAMP Was performed from 10-12 November 2022.

Ella Pilson is an author-in-progress based in Naarm (Melbourne). She was shortlisted for the  Hachette Australia Prize for Young Writers and is currently studying the Associate Degree of  Professional Writing & Editing at RMIT. Her opinion pieces have been published in RMIT’s Catalyst.  You can find her on Twitter at @EllaPilson.