Premiered in 2010 as part of the National Theatre’s Watch This Space festival, Smashed has become one of Gandini Juggling’s cult-hit shows. Smashed received its first theatre performances at the London International Mime Festival, so it’s fitting that they have returned to open the festival’s 40th anniversary with an extended version of the show, featuring more jugglers, more apples and more chaos.
The simple start barely conceals the skill of these performers as, with a nonchalant air, they parade round the stage to a chirpy WWII ditty (I Always Wanted To Waltz In Berlin by American songwriter Jack Little). The show’s eclectic soundtrack continues the nostalgic tone, with its crackling songs of the 30’s and 40’s, the occasional comedic number (namely the Hossier Hot Shots’ I Like Bananas Because They Have No Bones) and a Baroque opera finale.
It’s a concoction that sums up the wry, eccentric nature of Smashed, a show that draws inspiration from the Tanztheater style of Pina Bausch (Dominique Mercy, long time Pina Bausch dancer and choreographer, was involved in its creation). From the cast’s smart-casual attire, to the choreographed disarray of the finale, Bausch’s distinctive style is persistently brought to mind.
The inventiveness of Gandini’s virtuosic sequences is endlessly impressive. From formation juggling en masse, to the complex and beautiful patterning of a juggling duet, in which two performers entwine their bodies and catch at each other’s cascading apples, the cast of this show repeatedly amaze.
Precision is, of course, key, yet occasionally gravity wins and the proverbial apple drops. Any mistake is met by a gleeful cackle and, just as quickly, it’s absorbed by the playful spirit of the show.
In Smashed mischief and disruption is the game of choice. The cast continually play tricks upon each other, finding increasingly elaborate, and ludicrous, forms of sabotage. There’s a hilarious sequence in which one performer runs wild with a newspaper, methodically distracting every juggler on stage.
But, in the spirit of Bausch, taunts and teasing belie a darker note. Its striking that among the main ensemble of jugglers there are just two women. Amongst the fun their presence raises questions on social standing and sexual politics, the women preyed on by the men as they try to perform. There’s an uncomfortably submissive moment where they crawl past to Tammy Wynette’s Sometimes It’s Hard To Be A Woman and Stand By Your Man, a row of males bouncing apples off their backs.
Yet the women can be provocative too and, equally, they are allowed their bizarre comeuppance – a short punishment scene, the two taking it in turn to slip a smart slap into their juggling routine as the men file willingly forward.
Any tension is soon deflected by a new trick or moment of humour. As Smashed draws to a close it lives up to its title, the stage descending into chaos against the serene but mournful tones of Gelido in ogni vena from Vivaldi’s Farnace, sung by mezzo-soprano Emma Carrington. Individual tricks are performed to a chorus of catcalls and noisy distractions, each juggler’s concentration pushed to the limits. The crockery – an afternoon tea neatly set upon the floor – is soon flying through the air, teacups and plates carelessly missed as shouts and shattering china merge with classical opera. It’s a mad, chaotic finale – a perfectly pitched end to an ingenious show with a mischievous sense of humour.
Smashed is on at The Peacock Theatre until 10 January 2017. Click here for more details.