Side Show – Southwark Playhouse until 3rd December
“it’s good to have a friend by your side”
Guest Review By Jess Proud
You can always rely on Southwark Playhouse to deliver a great musical premier. With the transfer of ‘In The Heights’ and the recent critically acclaimed production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s ‘Allegro’, expectations were high for the UK premier of ‘Side Show’ – and it didn’t disappoint.
The musical tells the true story of conjoined twin sisters Violet (Laura Pitt-Pulford) and Daisy Hilton (Louise Dearman) whose stratospheric rise from freak show spectacle to vaudeville stars quickly unravels, as their individual dreams are unable to come to fruition without literally tearing them apart.
This is a well executed production. The cast is strong: Dominic Hodson and Haydn Oakely impress as nuanced male leads and they’re supported by an energetic, and refreshingly diverse, ensemble – special mention to Agnes Pure whose movement is often captivating. The talents of the creative team also shine through; director Hannah Chissick punches out the high drama which, though occasionally bordering sentimentality, delivers some terrific moments. Jo Cichonska leads a tight band through Henry Krieger’s score with new, rich orchestrations by Simon Hale. And designer takis delivers a hauntingly simple and exposed set, freeing choreographer Matthew Cole to fully utilise the small thrust stage and isles, including the audience in raucous circus numbers.
But despite all this, the show itself isn’t without flaws. Bill Russell’s lyrics often land awkwardly with Krieger’s melodies, and odd turns of phrase, hoping to be excused by being sung, draw focus from the narrative to the writers themselves. Additionally, monotonous sung-through passages lacking any rhyme scheme or distinguishable melody become instantly boring and forgettable. However, no-one can fault the performances of the show’s seasoned leading ladies. Pitt-Pulford’s vulnerable, endearing whilst awkward ‘Violet’ fantastically complements Dearman’s ambitious and robust ‘Daisy’. Both actresses respect their inescapable scene partner, acknowledging when the spotlight isn’t on them – at times we do forgot they’re literally joined-at-the-hip. The truly spine-tingling moments occur as the show draws to a close. The company leave the stage and the pair are left alone with the audience, free to display their powerhouse of vocal and acting talent in the duet, ‘I Will Never Leave You’ – credit where it’s due, the hook doesn’t leave the audience’s heads for quite some time.
The Hilton sister’s lead an extraordinary life of fame and success but also ridicule and exploitation, and this show delivers enormous heart navigating through their troubling story, proving that even when the world is against you, it’s good to have a friend by your side.