SIDE SHOW, 4Star****, to 3 December, London

Book and Lyrics by Bill Russell. Music by Henry Krieger.
Additional Book Material by Bill Condon.
4 Stars ****

Southwark Playhouse, The Large, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD to 3 December 2016.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm. Mat Sat 3pm/
Runs 2hr 25 mins One interval.

TICKETS: 020 7407.0234
Review: William Russell 26 October.

A superb double act in interesting musical
Well directed Hannah Chissick, cleverly staged and very well performed by the entire cast – the ensemble is terrific – this is one of those musicals one is either entranced by or does not like very much.

The plot is very loosely based on the story of real life conjoined English twins Daisy and Violet Hilton who ended up in various travelling freak shows in Europe and the United States exploited by their manager “owners” before succeeding in breaking loose. They became vaudeville stars in the 1920s, a kind of Dolly Sisters joined at the hip, and even got to Hollywood. The sting in the tale of the show, one which chances are most of today’s audiences will simply not get as it requires knowledge of a film they will never have seen.

Krieger’s score is tuneful, if not memorable, and the book tells the story it has decided to tell lucidly, but one does seem to spend an awful lot of Act One pondering what the twins will do about sex should they fall in love, and much of Act Two finding out that they fall for rather unsuitable men.

Louise Dearman as Daisy, the flirtatious sister, and Laura Pitt-Pulford as Violet, the quiet one, could not be bettered. They manage the complicated task of appearing to be joined at the hip with impressive skill, especially given they are not the same height, make one care about the girls’ plight, and sing beautifully. As Terry, the wide boy vaudevillian on his uppers, who falls – against his better judgement – for Daisy, Haydn Oakley is a cad to relish, while Dominic Hodson, as Buddy, the girl’s dancing partner and Violet’s potential husband gets the balance just right – he seems ideal but we all know he’s actually gay.

In Act One the pair rescue the girls from a travelling freak show run by Sir, a suitably nasty Chris Howell, who exploits them and everybody else in it. The freaks – bearded lady, human cannibal, tattooed lady, half man- half woman, lizard man, dog boy, human pincushion, fortune teller and dog boy – form the ensemble. In Act One they are in character, less so in Act Two. It is a clever conceit which lends the necessary surreal atmosphere to the tale.

First staged in 1997 in New York, and revived there two years ago, Side Show really is one for collectors of musicals. Dearman and Pitt-Pulford could not be bettered, but whether it does justice to the real sisters and their lives is another matter. They had a much worse time than this and the Hollywood dream proved a nightmare which did not end there, not that one would know from the show.

Daisy Hilton: Louise Dearman.
Violet Hilton: Laura Pitt-Pulford.
Buddy: Dominic Hodson.
Terry: Haydn Oakley.
Sir: Chris Howell.
Jake: Jay Marsh.
Fortune Teller: Genevieve Taylor.
Tattooed Girl: Agnes Pure.
Bearded Lady: Lala Barlow.
Half Man Half Woman: Kirstie Skivington.
Lizard Man: Nuno Quiemado.
Three Legged Man: Nuwan Hugh Perera.
Dog Boy: Oliver Marshall.
Human Pin Cushion: David Muscat.

Director: Hannah Chissick.
Musical Supervisor: Simon Hale.
Musical Director: Jo Cichonska.
Choreographer: Matthew Cole.
Designer: takis.
Lighting Design: Howard Hudson.
Sound Design: Dan Samson Sound.
Costume Supervisor: Clare Ames.

2016-10-28 10:10:17

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