If you have any preconceived notions of what a juggling show ought to be, you should probably drop them here. Smashed is unlike any juggling show I would have expected. Indeed, it’s barely even a juggling show - although the skill displayed is second to none. The juggling is a springboard for these nine performers to explore the boundaries between patterns and disorder, composure and insanity, juggling, theatre and dance, using 80 apples and a lot of teacups.
Sections of the performance were hilarious, but Smashed is not just a funny show. It pays homage to dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch; the opening sequence involves a line of performers in formal dress stepping in time to music hall song, flashing comic expressions at the audience. Less fun than this arch display of skill, but equally Bausch-inspired, are the sinister tones of the performers’ relations to one another, often explored through gender imbalances. The two women of the troupe attempt a simple juggling routine and are interrupted by gangs of men taking away their agency, forcing them to move without autonomy. Next, the women stuff apples in their mouths and lower themselves on all fours to crawl, gagged, before a line of men making frantic patterns with apples on their backs. The soundtrack is Stand By Your Man.
Such serious stuff is punctuated by a mad hatter-esque tea theme. One performer delivers a maniacal monologue about English tea-time (this was supposed to be light-hearted, I am later told, though I found it terrifying). When the meaning of the production’s name finally comes clear, it is glorious to behold. The performers smash everything with reckless abandon: they even begin to eat their apples, chomping as they juggle, until the juice dribbles down their chin.
The nasty elements are still there, though; we see them jeering at each other, humiliating and humiliated, willing one another to drop their apples, and then wilfully dropping things. Soon chaos reigns, and everything is smashed. Finally, among the rubble, the opening sequence is played out, and, gingerly, they start again from the beginning, deftly stepping around the debris on the floor and smiling sheepishly at the audience.
There is never a quiet moment in this production. The mood is by turns sweet, funny and menacing; the juggling extraordinarily skilful. If you’re not prepared for it, it can get a bit incomprehensible at times (exploring misogyny through juggling? Who knew) but at no point is this performance anything other than thoroughly engaging.