Gandini Juggling Smashed: Special Edition Review

Peacock Theatre 9 – 10 January.  Reviewed by Claire Roderick

The 40th London International Mime Festival opened with a bang and lots of laughs thanks to Gandini Juggling. Expanding their company to 22 with guest artists, this special edition of Smashed is a wonderfully oddball creation, full of apples, energy and distinctly European humour.

The soundtrack is a joy, full of familiar tunes that bring a smile to your face – calypso, country and western and opera – it’s all in here.

An opening parade around a row of wooden chairs is simple and sweet, with the company providing laughs just by opening their mouths as their apples rise and fall. I know this sounds like we must have been drunk, but the effect was wonderful, allowing each performer to introduce their “character”. The synchronicity and timing of the jugglers is astounding – one number where they are sitting in a row with apples rising and falling in perfect harmony to the rhythm of a jaunty 30s tune looked just like an early cartoon music sequence.

There is no distinct storyline in the show, the publicity describes it as a series of nostalgic scenes exploring conflict, lost love and quaint afternoon tea. The inventive sequences range from sweet courtship, with one poor unrequited lover being constantly rejected as men peacock around the stage, to downright misogyny (with a wink and glint in the eye), with the two female performers crawling along the floor as the men bounce apples and touch their bodies to the strains of “Stand By Your Man”, and further female performers being manhandled into position and perked up before a brilliantly deadpan and beautiful piece of armography with apples whilst lip-synching Charles Aznavour’s “What makes a man a man?” There is instant payback though, with men lining up for kinky juggling punishment at the hands of the women (and thanking them for it!), and a hysterically pervy seduction scene resulting in apples being “laid” in the men’s laps. The battle of the sexes with apples as weapons – it’s all quite biblical.

Inspired by Pina Bausch, the choreography is varied and innovative, with nods to ballet, street dance and Broadway. Whether moving in organised interweaving lines and circles, or forming frantic groups of shoving and grabbing arms – and keeping those apples flying – the performers skill is simply astounding. The beauty of a pair of dancers juggling slowly and smoothly as they hug and twirl must be seen to be believed.

The performers aren’t infallible, but whenever an apple is dropped, a wicked cackle emerges from the company, bringing the house down and making you wonder if it was an accident after all. The jeopardy of juggling is explored in a fantastically childlike way, with one performer using a rolled-up newspaper in a variety of ways to distract the jugglers and send apples rolling over the stage. When the time comes for everyone’s party tricks to be shown off – astounding skills on display here – the entire company ends up chanting “Drop! Drop! Drop!” at the last man standing.

Mezzo-soprano Emma Carrington and a string quartet provide a stunning accompaniment to the finale – with mesmeric choreography fracturing into jerky, chaotic movement before harmonising again. The sense of rising anarchy throughout the show comes to a head when the apples are exchanged for crockery. The juggling descends into artful smashing, with shards littering the floor, teapots emptied over people, and carefully choreographed chaos descending on the stage. Just brilliant!

Unfortunately, Gandini Juggling had only two shows in the festival, but if they ever come to a theatre near you, GET A TICKET! This is juggling and theatre at its best.