Review – Side Show, Southwark Playhouse

Tuesday 25 October 2016

side-show-artwork-image-700x455It’s a rum old world sometimes.

Two consecutive off-West End shows featuring poisonous homosexualists (Kenny Morgan, The Boys In The Band), then two in a row featuring a hostess trolley (The Red BarnThe Grinning Man). The latter a musical about a carnival attraction “freak show”. This one is too. What are the chances?

This is the 1997 Broadway flop Side Show (31 previews and 91 regular performances) which was revived and revised in 2014 only to flop again after a seven week run. Is someone trying to tell them something?

But it’s an interesting story (book and lyrics Bill Russell) about the lives of Brighton-born* conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton who went on to become famous stage performers in the US in the 1920s and 1930s and had a brief brush with Hollywood when Tod Browning more or less finished their careers by putting them in his notorious film Freaks. Wonder if Browning got a 2-4-1 deal?

So pity poor Louise Dearman (Daisy here. We previously saw her Cinderella against Mickey Rooney’s Hardup) and Laura Pitt-Pulford (Violet) stapled together as the leads. Not so much joined at the hip as stitched at the skirt for most of the show. We do hope the actresses get on.

Hannah Chissick‘s production does what it says on its tin, opening with an often inaudible number “Come Look At The Freaks” led by the ringmaster boss of the show (Christopher Howell) introducing us to his attractions including a bearded lady, a lion-faced man, a man who flaunts his third leg and a tattooed lady who has a second “talent” in giving the boss blow jobs. Tattooed ladies are hardly unusual these days; they should think about covering the tattoos of one of the other cast ladies as it jars somewhat. And there’s a man who appears to be covered in cornflakes.

The Hilton sisters in Freaks

The Hilton sisters in Freaks

The songs are pleasant enough but fairly generic (music by Dreamgirls composer Henry Krieger) with lots of metaphors, closed doors, opening doors, swimming against the tide etc and a choreographic Chicago steal in Act 1 when the press circle the girls as their fame spreads.  Plus there’s a red balloon which is burst as a death is mentioned. Eeek!

Phil was engaged by the tale which covers their court case to break free from the sideshow and the twins’ different aspirations, one relishing fame whilst the other sought love. Tricky. Stellar and moving performances from both leading ladies. Never have two leads had to lead each other as much as they do here.

Andrew found it “bland” but resisted an interval departure. Just. Which is odd really as Phil though he’d be more simpatico having experienced being joined at the hip to Phil in his Whingeing days.

Phil would have appreciated more humour. This might have come in the “comedy”/tap number “One Plus One Equals Three” if it hadn’t been such a shameless plundering of Cabaret‘s “Two Ladies”. Beedle dee, dee dee dee.

But then if it had been side-splitting there wouldn’t have been much a story.

*According to Wikipedia “The number 708 bus in their hometown of Brighton, England is named in their honour.” Presumably they come along in pairs too.

rating - 3 out of 5 - glass half empty


3 Responses to “Review – Side Show, Southwark Playhouse”

  1. Billy Says:

    Fascinating as always and compelling as a baffling reunion of two erstwhile Whingers who claim to be past their whingeing days. Will this review lead to a rejoining at the hip, as when Liz and Dick remarried to great fanfare? Or is it merely like Jennifer Lopez forgiving Caspar Smart for one last peccadillo before giving him the final heave-ho? Devoted Whinger fans want to know –

  2. […] West End Whingers: “Hannah Chissick‘s production does what it says on its tin.” […]

  3. A Kirby Says:

    Also in London now are two singing Houdinis (“Side by Side” and “Ragtime”).

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