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Smashed, Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House


Smashed, by Gandini Juggling, starts with apparent decorum. Dozens of bright red apples are laid out in a neat pattern. Cups and saucers look ready for afternoon tea. By the end of this inventive and very funny show, chaos reigns. That crockery is doomed.

Smashed started out as a short indoor work. The Gandinis have since expanded it into an hour-long, indoor show. The focus on relationships and turmoil is inspired by the dance theatre of Pina Bausch. In homage, it opens with their variation on a classic Bausch device. A chorus line of people cross the stage, stepping in time to a wartime song. As in Bausch, they’re wearing formal dress and casting arch glances at the audience. The difference is that the Gandinis are also juggling.

It’s a characteristically dotty touch. Over the course of Smashed, the apple-juggling is used to make patterns, to punctuate dances and to suggest all manner of obsessions. The nine performers – including directors Sean Gandini and Kati Ylä-Hokkala – sit in a row, juggling in unison or passing a pattern down the line. The timing is wittily deft, with sudden switches to the rhythm or shape of the juggling.  Three performers will throw an apple extra-high; another sends one whistling down the line, over the heads of the others.

One man sings the praises of tea, but never quite gets water, cup and teabag all together. Ylä-Hokkala and Cecilia Zucchetti, the company’s two women, juggle side by side. Men gather round one of them, correcting and managing; the women are either ignored or bossed.

The Gandinis keep juggling through all kinds of distractions. One man prowls the stage with a rolled-up newspaper, taking swipes at the others. After general attacks, he focuses on one person at a time, until they make a mistake. This virtuoso company can keep their apples going while being pushed off balance, prodded from unexpected angles, crowded or teased. At one point, their tormenter resorts to batting the apples out of the air.

Once the apples start falling, resolution crumbles. They’ve discovered the fun of dropping things. In another sequence, they take turns to juggle solo while the others heckle. “Juggling at the opera house?” sneers one. “How pretentious. What is this, France?”

Throughout the evening, a dropped apple is greeted with a shriek of derisive laughter from one man. Now everybody’s jeering, or dropping things on purpose. They even start eating the juggled apples – snatching one bite at a time, keeping the others in the air.

Until 26 January. Box office 020 7304 4000. London International Mime Festival continues until 27 January; www.mimelondon.com