|Image from the Southwark Playhouse website|
Growing up, and particularly in my teens and early twenties, I was an enormous musical theatre nerd (in the nicest possible way, but that’s the only way to describe my devotion to the genre). Evenings spent singing along to cast albums on CD soon grew to bigger things when I moved to university and discovered there was a whole society devoted to musicals, and I romped through a fair few productions as a bit player, a lead, or as a chorus monkey (these were often the most fun!).
My time at university taught me a lot about musicals as a form, and I got to try and do all sorts of things (tap dancing, dancing dressed as a member of the undead, an onstage costume change from trousers and a jacket to a sleeveless ballgown in eight bars) while pursuing the hobby! Being in a city rather than my rural hometown I also finally had the chance to see some musicals on stage and the university library afforded me riches in the way of CDs and VHS copies of classic film musicals (yep, VHS. I kid you not!).
I’d always had a crush on the genre, I guess, but those four years were when I fell in love with it. I have fond memories of the time spent performing, practicing and enjoying musicals – while musical theatre was a hobby it did feed directly into my degree, with my final dissertation being on the musical film in general and Moulin Rouge specifically. Man, I enjoyed being a student.
All this is a roundabout way to mention that during these halcyon days I first encountered the score to Side Show. The show is inspired by the true story of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, and from the first time my friend Shona handed me a copy of the soundtrack I was in love. The story is touching, the music compelling. It’s a dark, deep musical, full of longing and desire, hope and fear and I played that soundtrack like it was my job. I loved to sing the songs and hoped that one day, at long last, a UK production would happen and I’d be able to see the music brought to life onstage.
Almost fifteen years later, on Monday, that hope was finally realised, when Shona and I took our seats at the Southwark Playhouse for their production of Side Show. And it was wonderful.
A hugely talented cast transports the audience from twenty-first century London to the hustle and bustle of a Texas sideshow. Amongst the wonders on display there, Daisy and Violet are the main attraction, controlled by the dark and sinister ‘Sir’. The story unfolds with all the added complications and worries of the girls’ condition and the time they live in. There’s a lot of emotion on stage, from anger to sadness, love to terror, hope to despair,and the production is smooth and polished – I was so impressed that so early in the run things were all running so smoothly. The entire cast were very good, and the transitions from the gawked at players in the side show to other characters by the supporting cast were convincing and fluid.
Everyone on stage plays their part beautifully, but the stars of the show truly are Daisy and Violet (played by Louise Dearman and Laura Pitt-Pulford). They play the sisters so well, capturing the very different yearnings of the two characters beautifully. Both Daisy’s hunger for fame and self-determination and Violet’s hopes for love and normalcy were conveyed in a very human, very honest way. When the idea of separation was raised the mixture of fear and excitement was palpable, and the two actresses truly brought these characters to life. Daisy and Violet are famed for their singing within the action of the story, and the two voices blended and worked together gorgeously – I got goosebumps several times.
If you enjoy touching, interesting musical theatre, this is the show for you. I left entertained, uplifted, and slightly red-eyed after a good weep. It’s a fantastic production – Shona has already bought a ticket for a second show and I must confess to being considering doing the same myself. A great show.
Side Show plays at the Southwark Playhouse, SE1, until the 3rd December.