Reviewed by: KIDDO mag
Review by Suze Harrington | 12 March 2024

Not even the 40 degree heat in Adelaide could melt the enthusiasm of my daughters and I as we queued for the performance of ‘Bunktopia’ in The Garden of Unearthly Delights. Having been lucky enough to witness last year’s offering, ‘Bunkasaurus’, we knew we were in for a treat and we were not disappointed.

As a former Performing Arts teacher (therefore - lover of quality theatre) and a current kindy teacher (therefore - lover of ‘junk’)  – all my loves were combined in one ingenious and captivating performance. Jeff Achtem is a dynamo of DIY, crafting the most exquisite shadow puppets out of everyday ‘stuff’. Cardboard and tinsel become old men, while balloons and clown wigs become grannies in the fantastical worlds he creates. The endless possibilities of junk are showcased, igniting the Play School presenter within us all.

Bunktopia was comprised of several short shadow puppet skits, each requiring a level of physical theatre and dexterity that was surely more difficult than Jeff made it seem. From strapping beach balls on his feet to create snail puppets, to his use of a rudimentary pedalled contraption made of milk crates and reels to simulate a horse ride, Jeff’s physical capabilities were highlighted and stretched – enthralling and entrancing all who were there to witness it.

Perhaps the highlight of the show however was the finale, The Royal Poodle, a performance requiring the acting prowess of an unwitting audience member. With Jeff creating the shadow puppet world, whereby a troll steals the Royal Poodle, our audience hero is left to walk through the forest, jump through the lava, steal swords, climb ladders and dodge rocks (created by the BEST use of a popcorn machine I have ever seen) – before facing off with the troll in an epic battle of courage and strength. The laughs were readily forthcoming and the audience cheered as the hero vanquished the troll and saved the day.

Jeff’s largely wordless performance drew to a close with impact, as the words he chose to leave us with were indeed words to live by - “No matter how big you get, there’s always time to play.” In a world ruled by the pursuit of both business and busyness, it was perhaps the most poignant reminder by a man who clearly practises what he preaches.

This show is everything that Fringe performances are supposed to be. It has heart, soul, creativity and magic and we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. While the season has ended for this year, I encourage you to keep an eye out for future Bunk Puppets performances – I guarantee you will be well entertained and inspired.