REVIEW: SIDE SHOW (Southwark Playhouse) ★★★★
SIDE SHOW is the true story of Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twins from the early 1900’s who’s mother sold them to a woman who took them on a traveling freak show around the world, exploiting them for money. When Vaudeville producers saw the duo singing, they helped them fight the courts to free themselves from the guardianship of their ‘uncle’ so that they could become stars on the Vaudeville circuit. But did these producers really want to protect them or were they looking to exploit them, just as everyone in their life so far had? And would this be the last time Daisy and Violet would let themselves be taken advantage of or would they accept that they are, and always will be, performing freaks.
Two of the West End’s leading ladies make up the conjoined twins at the forefront of this show. Louise Dearman as Daisy and Laura Pitt-Pulford as Violet. When I first heard the original cast recording for this show it was obvious that Louise Dearman was born to play the role of Daisy, the strong and powerful character with a voice to match. Laura plays the more timid Violet who shy’s away from confrontation, not wanting to rock the boat. However as the show progresses the roles reverse which is a lovely thing to watch. These two ladies are fantastic in equal measure and their voices blend together perfectly. I am very excited to see Laura take on the role of Nell Gwynn in the upcoming UK tour as I think she will be wonderful in a more comedic role.
Jay Marsh as Jake failed to impress me vocally during the first act but came in to his own during the second half and really impressed with his song ‘You Must Be Loved’.
Chris Howell does well in the first half as the ring master of the freak show and gives a nice balance of emotion, keeping the audience guessing as to what his real intentions have been for the conjoined twins all these years. Has he been trying to protect them or just monetise them? It is a shame he only reappears briefly in the second act and is perhaps a little under-utilised in the show.
Special mentions must go to Dominic Hodson as the adorable Buddy who agrees to marry Violet but perhaps for the wrong reason and to Genevieve Taylor for her incredible vocals as the Fortune Teller.
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The set design for the show is great, a real fairground type side show with freaks running around the stage. The choreography is brilliant with great dance routines and tap numbers. Unfortunately what does let this show down is the direction. It was confusing as to how the story was being told (were the ‘freaks’ supposed to be telling the story of the conjoined twins to the audience or we were supposed to believe that these abnormal looking characters were normal people in other scenes, despite their garish faces under their costumes).
SIDE SHOW has great music and is wonderfully performed by its actors. The way the story has been told is slightly confusing and I would have liked to see the struggles the girls experienced up until the end of their lives (they ended up being abandoned by their manager at a drive-in and left to fend for themselves).
All things considered SIDE SHOW’s positives well outweigh it’s negatives and is well worth going to see. So go look at the freaks.
Reviewed by West End Wilma
Photos: Pamela Raith
SIDE SHOW plays at the Southwark Playhouse until 3 December 2016