Cløwns and Queens review – 'A constantly shifting dance of desire'

Shoreditch Town Hall, London
In Gandini Juggling's show, rings, balls and hoops become an extension of the body. It is full of sex, but never sexy

Read Lyn Gardner's feature on the juggling renaissance

Ever wondered how juggling might convey the sexual act or the feeling of post-coital abandonment? If you have, look no further than the latest show from Gandini Juggling, a show that comes with balls, rubber penises, exchanges of bodily fluids and horizontal juggling. It is full of sex, but it is never sexy, examining the nature of lust with an almost forensic attention: bodies are viewed full frontal but with an emotional distance; sex is laid out like a cold corpse on the mortuary slab.

Set in its own mad, enclosed world, a court full of queens and clowns where formality and polite tea-drinking disguises something visceral and vicious, the show depicts five women and four men engaged in a constantly shifting dance of desire. Rings, balls and hoops become an extension of the body and its orifices. There are some intriguing asides: if you remove the juggler's clothes, where, and at what, does the audience look?

This is not a show that has the witty mainstream appeal of the company's remarkable hit, Smashed, which returns next month as part of the Udderbelly festival. But there are similar themes here in the nods towards sexual politics and imbalanced power relationships. Humiliation is never far away. Trousers and dignity are constantly being lost. A woman sniffs a man as if examining a piece of meat; a game of blind man's buff (with the emphasis on "buff") turns nasty.

This is a brave, bold show, bed-hopping between circus, dance and performance with some confidence, if not always complete coherence. There is much to admire, but it is harder to like. Emotional formality and a certain wintriness constantly keep the audience at bay – you start to feel like a scientist examining specimens in a laboratory, rather than a witness to the mad messiness of transgressive human desire.

Read Lyn Gardner's feature on the juggling renaissance

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Lyn Gardner

The GuardianTramp

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