If you mention Side Show to the most devoted musical theatre audiences, many of them will proclaim it to be one of their favourite musicals, even though until now, the show has never been performed professionally in London. The original Broadway production was nominated for four Tony awards and the cast recording made stars of its two leading ladies, Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner. The show was sadly not a commercial success and even with a few alterations, the 2014 revival again failed to connect with the mass market. Side Show does however, have everything you could possibly want from a musical and the new production at Southwark Playhouse is possibly one of the most beautiful pieces of musical theatre London has ever witnessed.
From the very first note, Henry Krueger’s soaring score and Bill Russell’s captivating lyrics draw you into a world of intrigue and despair, where the unusual are reviled and those who possess unique characteristics are ridiculed and branded as freaks. We are introduced to the Hilton sisters (Daisy and Violet), a set of teenage Siamese twins, who are forced to perform at one such seedy side-show and treated as slaves by ‘Sir'(Christopher Howell), the demonic owner of the troop. After a couple of plucky vaudeville talent scouts discover their abilities, the girls are catapulted into the spotlight, but can never shake off the wish to become part of ‘normal’ society.
Louise Dearman and Laura Pitt-Pulford star as the conjoined twins, and are simply stunning in their portrayals, perfectly capturing the hidden torment of the sisters whose unwavering loyalty towards one another eventually fends off damaging outside influences.
Hannah Chissick’s direction cleverly disguises the obvious difficulties the leading ladies face and allows the twins to make the most of their partnership, with some enchanting dance numbers and sensational duets including the tear-jerking Who Will Love Me as I Am and the show-stopping I Will Never Leave You. They are supported with class by Dominic Hodson as Buddy, Haydn Oakley as Terry, Jay Marsh as Jake and the rest of the cast of magical misfits.
It’s when Dearman and Pitt-Pulford fill the auditorium with the most spellbinding musical truisms, that the audience is really treated however, with a pair of performances, which will undoubtedly earn the acclaimed pair further plaudits.
A show about conjoined twins doesn’t necessarily have an appealing ring to it for many, so lets instead pitch Side Show as a musical about social acceptance, with exquisite music and sensational performances from all. I’ve already seen it twice and will try to get there as many times as I can before it closes in December.
Side Show continues at Southwark Playhouse until 3rd December. If you would like any further information, you can visit the website http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/show/side-show/