The Southwark Playhouse is known for putting on excellent productions of lesser-known musicals, so I was very pleased to book a ticket for Side Show when it was announced. The show has an interesting history: written by Henry Krieger (music) and Bill Russell (book and lyrics) it first premiered in 1997 and a revised version was presented off-Broadway in 2014 with a revised score. It’s this new version that is being performed here.
The musical is based on a true story about the Brighton-born conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, who were stars of vaudeville and film in the 1920s and 1930s. At the beginning of the show, the pair are performing in a freak show owned by ‘Sir’ when Terry and Buddy, entertainers and producers, come to see them and insist they can make them into stars. However, their motives are not entirely pure either. As we follow the pair’s rise, there is the oft-unspoken issue of whether they will consent to be separated, or whether they will choose to remain as they are.
Hannah Chissick’s production adequately evokes the circus and vaudeville environments in which the girls live, and Henry Krieger’s music, while not as memorable as some of the shows I’ve seen, made its way into my head, particularly the moving tunes ‘Who Will Love Me as I Am’ and ‘I Will Never Leave You’.
Louise Dearman and Laura Pitt-Pulford are excellent as the outgoing Daisy and the quieter, more reserved Violet, and their relationship is one of the best things about the show. Dominic Hudson (Buddy), Haydn Oakley (Terry) and Jay Marsh as one of the girls’ most loyal friends are also very good. I do wish the secondary characters had been more fleshed out, however.
Side Show is a musical about misfits and outcasts – as many of the best shows are – and while it’s not perfect, it does what it does very well.