Director: Sean Gandini
Reviewer: Jo Beggs
If you’re wondering how you can keep an audience entertained for an hour with juggling, look no further than Sean Gandini. Since 1992, juggler Gandini and rhythmic gymnast Kati Ylä-Hokkala have been creating juggling shows which have wowed audiences around the world. Smashed began life in 2010 as part of the National Theatre’s Watch This Space festival, and played a continuous run at the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe. Tonight’s outing at the Lowry marks the 400th show and it’s clearly now a firm fixture in the repertoire.
Smashed is totally compelling right from the start. A row of nine identical chairs, dozens of red apples in lines on the floor and a tea service, neatly piled in the corner. Nine performers, two women, seven men, smartly dressed, appear and, in perfect rhythm, circle the stage, juggling apples to Little Jack Little’s I’ve Always Wanted to Waltz in Berlin. Like all circus acts, they’re starting with the ‘easy stuff’ but it’s already clear that, even though we’ll get awe-inspiring circus later, the juggling is only the half of it. Smashed is as much dance as it is circus, full of humour and passion, it tells stories of love, desire and loss. Sean Gandini describes Smashed as being influenced by Pina Bausch and there’s certainly something of the great choreographer’s fluid movement underpinned by repetition and pattern, as jugglers perform solos, duets and then come together in perfect synchronisation. Every moment is marvellously choreographed, from the intimate duets to the sharp ensemble pieces. But there’s more than just dance going on here – think mime, physical theatre and slapstick, all rolled into one delightful hour. If Bausch is an inspiration, there’s also a big dose of Matthew Bourne in the storytelling and humour, and a definite nod to Forced Entertainment’s signature sharply choreographed chaos in the final scenes.
With all this going on it’s easy to forget just how much skill it takes to juggle. The nine performers are so incredibly accomplished that the juggling becomes an integral part of the movement rather than a set piece in itself. There’s none of the circus-ring breath holding and drum-roll build up to a spectacular moment. Instead, one spectacular moment just flows seamlessly into the next. On the odd occasion an apple is dropped, any audience discomfort is smartly diffused by an infectious circus clown laugh from one of the company.
The show is technically simple, yet everything comes together rather beautifully to create an opulent atmosphere. Lighting by Mark Jonathan wonderfully creates a range of moods, picks out flying red apples at all corners of the stage, and bathes lyrical duets in an almost cinematic golden light. The soundtrack is a delightful mish-mash of the lyrical (Bach’s French Suite No. 2 in C Minor), the comfortably familiar (Tammy Wynette’s Stand By Your Man) and the comedic (I Like Bananas Because They Have No Bones by the Hossier Hot Shots), along with found sounds, all perfectly underpinning the performance.
Smashed is a captivating hour of entertainment. Frantic, fun and full of surprises.
Reviewed on 7 December 2014