Southwark Playhouse, London – until 3 December 2016
Guest reviewer: Simona Negretto
Originally opening on Broadway in 1997 then revived in 2014, Side Show by Bill Russell and Henry Krieger finally finds its way to the London stage thanks to Hannah Chissick’s ingenious production now playing at the Southwark Playhouse.
Based on the true story of the Daisy and Violet Hilton– conjoined twins who became famous in the 1930s as a vaudeville double act – the musical follows the decade of their fame from its beginnings in Texas through to New York and onto their Hollywood debut in the 1932 horror movie, Freaks.
Through their fascinating and unconventional lives, Side Show succeeds in engaging the audience with an open question about individuality and identity; the two girls’ struggle to just be themselves (or “Like Everyone Else” as they sing) is a never-ending controversial and painful process of auto-definition. The contradiction lies in their desiring to be two separate people, on the one hand and the fear of losing a deep part of their inner selves in doing so, on the other.
Bringing a fabulous pedigree to the show, its strong cast is led by Louise Dearman as a saucy and strong Daisy and Laura Pitt-Pulford who plays the sensitive and dreamy Violet. The two are the living embodiment of yin and yang, where the need to be accepted and the desire to live a normal life are intertwined with the sparkle of showbiz and they are utterly convincing in portraying the twins’ double act, especially in songs like “Buddy Kissed Me” and “Typical Girls Next Door”.
Their male counterparts are equally impressive: Haydn Oakley is a rascally, charming Terry while Dominic Hodson is a naïve and controversial Buddy. To deliver such a distinctive story the show can count on some striking songs, from the strongly energetic opening number “Come Look At The Freaks”, to the funny and entertaining “Very Well Connected” and “One Plus One Equals Three”, to the tender “Feelings You’ve Got To Hide” that clearly succeed in moving the audience.
Chissick guides her top-notch company through a virtually flawless production, thanks also to takis’ thought-provoking set which, in its simplicity cleverly alludes as much to the golden lights of the music hall as it does the harsh restraint of circus cages. There is glamorous costume work from Clare Amos, the as ever excellent lighting plots from Howard Hudson while Jo Cichonska keeps the band perfectly nuanced under her classy direction.
An uncommon musical infused with both uneasiness and joy, Side Show is a unique, rare experience that will stay with you long after the finale. Go and see it!
Runs until 3rd December 2016.
Reviewed by Simona Negretto
Photo credit: Pamela Raith