Review: GANDINI JUGGLING'S SMASHED, Peacock Theatre

The hit show returns to London after a seven-year break.

By: Jun. 04, 2024
Review: GANDINI JUGGLING'S SMASHED, Peacock Theatre
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Review: GANDINI JUGGLING'S SMASHED, Peacock Theatre Juggling not only apples but comedy, dance and socio-sexual commentary, the troupe co-founded by Sean Gandini and Kati Ylä-Hokkala in 1992 bring back their signature production to London.

The very title does a lot of heavy lifting with its multiple meanings in some way tied into what is presented. The show is a definite favourite of the Gandini Juggling company having been performed over a thousand times since its 2010 debut. There’s a curious blend of styles and content: Pina Bausch’s postmodern dance is mixed up with theatre and surreal portraits of modern life. And, while the occasional apple is munched along the way, the ending sees them all - plus a household’s worth of crockery - explode into pieces. To wit, Smashed is a smash hit that metaphorically smashes art forms together before a Ragnarök’s worth of literal smashing goes on. 

Review: GANDINI JUGGLING'S SMASHED, Peacock Theatre
Photo credit: Ludovic des Cognets

Gandini and Ylä-Hokkala are clearly artistic polymaths who refuse to be boxed into a corner. They were a central part of Phelim McDermott’s critically acclaimed version of the Phillip Glass opera Akhanaten for the ENO and they are currently finishing off a piece that combines juggling with magic. This summer, the company will be back at the Edinburgh Fringe with the “ultra-modern pop-punk” show Rollercoaster which incorporates an inflatable blue structure, a 4m-long transparent tube and electrobeats. It is dance, though, that the pair cleave to time after time in works like 4X4 Ephemeral Architectures (with Ludovic Ondiveiela), Sigma (with Seeta Patel) and Spring (with Alexander Whitley). Like their Life (a tribute to Merce Cunningham), Smashed was created in just a week soon after Bausch died and acts as their immediate response to her renowned choreography (especially that for Kontakthof).

There’s always a clash of expectations when it comes to events like this. A night where the artists do nothing but juggle would have been tiresome after a while but, then again, not showing off their enviable skills would have been a bit of a disappointment. Smashed drives us straight down the middle with the nine performers playing out thought-provoking Bausch-like physical vignettes while taking turns to cascade apples through the air and off each other.

Review: GANDINI JUGGLING'S SMASHED, Peacock Theatre
Photo credit: Ludovic des Cognets

There’s a fair dab of socio-sexual commentary ably delivered with help from John Paul Zaccarini’s dramaturgy. The two female performers enact sequences highlighting the way women are subject to male attention. One sees the pair crawl on hands and knees in front of a line of seated men while the latter playfully bounce apples off their backs; another sees the men pour their attention onto the younger woman, throwing their apples around in excitement, while completely ignoring the other woman. In between, there’s some cheeky interplay and slapstick to the sounds of music hall, Bach and Tammy Wynette.

The vigour and vitality in this excellent piece highlights just how safe and insular much of modern theatre is. It is even more impressive considering that nary a word is spoken with much of what is seen and felt here conveyed through physical dialogue and provocative dramatics. Whether this is family entertainment is debatable - the finale is fun as all hell and had the kids around me screaming with laughter - but having work like this presenting and confronting modern issues is invaluable. The verdict? Smashing.

More information on Gandini Juggling can be found on their website.

Photo credit: Ludovic des Cognets



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