REVIEW: Side Show at Southwark Playhouse

This show was one of the rare moments Nathan and Charlie both see the show, so there will be two parts; Nathan’s review and Charlie’s review. Enjoy!

Nathan’s Review

Side Show is one of my favourite cast recordings to listen to (2014 New Broadway Cast), so when I knew the show would be coming to London’s infamous Southwark Playhouse, I had to see the show! I knew me and Charlie were seeing School Of Rock on the evening of the 29th October, so why not see a cheeky matinee?

When the casting was initially announced in September, I was more than excited. Laura Pitt-Pulford and Louise Dearman playing conjoined twins? Hell yeah! Okay so now onto my review of the show itself. The stage was set perfectly. The set was loosely (I’m gathering) based on the 2014 Broadway revival, and looked absolutely stunning. The intimacy of the Southwark Playhouse really worked as a carnival attraction. As we entered the auditorium from the bar/foyer, a toy organ version of “Like Everyone Else” was playing quietly. The usher, as we approached the entrance, said “Freak show!” as if he was trying to get customers into his own freak show. Well played, usher. The seating was set up in usual Southwark Playhouse fashion of a thrust stage (this can be altered for different productions), and posters hung along the walls advertising the freak show acts, e.g. the Bearded Lady and the Siamese twins. The lights went down. From the first few words ‘Come look at the freaks!’ I could tell the small (and I mean small) ensemble were strong.

Daisy and Violet, two conjoined twins, played by Louise and Laura as I mentioned earlier, entered the stage holding each other, and looked up at the “balcony” of the set, where Sir, played wonderfully by Chris Howell took his place. They exited the stage and the freak show began. Sir was a beautifully sinister ringmaster, and introduced the freaks wonderfully. The freaks got very…very close to the audience. The Lizard Man (Nuno Quiemado) almost touched me and Charlie. Wow. The costumes were awesomely done, though the Three Legged Man (Nuwan Hugh Penera) awkwardly had more of a tail with a shoe than a leg, but other than that the freaks were beautifully done. The staging pretty much relied on wooden crates which could be opened and held props. The freaks, who were on stage throughout the performance as ensemble, would place these as the scenes unfolded. Instead of using a rotator, the freaks would turn [a cast member] on a longer wooden crate with wheels. It worked really well.

The vocals of Laura Pitt-Pulford and Louise Dearman really blended and worked well together, especially in the heartbreaking “Who Will Love Me As I Am?”. They both really seemed to have the Siamese Twin-thing down. They walked together, danced together, and barely separated (apart from once, during Private Conversation [on purpose]). Director Hannah Chissick really did well on staging the two girls. The girls were seriously amazing. The libretto of Side Show calls for a few more freaks than we had (The Geek, The World’s Tiniest Cossacks, The Living Venus De Milo). The Geek was played by David Muscat, who also played the Human Pin Cushion. This worked, but only slightly. The Venus De Milo wasn’t staged by anyone, and the Cossacks were done cleverly, with some freaks placing shoes on their hands and another freak putting their arms through. It worked.

My absolutely favourite moment of the show, however, was I Will Never Leave You. It’s essentially a theatre kid’s best friend anthem! Not only did the two girls sing it absolutely amazing, the staging was so much better than the 2014 Broadway version. The girls held each other tightly as they belted their hearts out!
What more could you want?

I’ve never been more eager to book tickets to see a show again. It was absolutely stunning.

Charlie’s Review

Well what can I say that Nathan hasn’t covered? In case you haven’t noticed, he’s just slightly in love with Side Show, and now after Saturday there can be another person added to the list of Side Show fans…Me!

I didn’t really know a lot about the show until Nathan managed to tell me (in between screaming with excitement) that it was coming to the Southwark Playhouse in London, and right then we knew we had to fit it in to our next London trip!

For those of you who don’t know the plot, well I shan’t spoil it too much, but just to give you a little hint. It is based on the true story of the Hilton sisters Daisy (Louise Dearman) and Violet (Laura Pitt-Pulford) who were (if you hadn’t guessed already) conjoined twins who lived there lives ‘on display’ for all to gaze upon the ‘freaks’ that happened to also be amazing singers. They ended up as the ‘main attraction’ in a Side Show ran by their legal guardian Sir. That is until they were spotted by two talent agents (Buddy Foster and Terry Connor, played by Dominic Hodson and Chris Howell) who threw them in to fame in 1920’s Chicago. The story then unfolds from there as we follow the lives and relationships of the twins.

This was my first visit to the Southwark Playhouse and it was a lot smaller and intimate than what I imagined, which actually made me more excited to see the leading roles. I’d heard great things about them both so was very looking forward to finally seeing them live, and they certainly didn’t disappoint. Their voices were absolutely incredible and were just breath-taking together, they had me reduced to tears during ‘I Will Never Leave You’-an absolute belter of a song! On top of this, the acting was brilliant too! Your heart went out to the twins and they really conveyed the emotions well.

The whole ensemble of freaks portrayed their characters fantastically and were an integral part of the show covering most of the set changes and doubling as other characters. It was a pleasure to see David Muscat on stage again as the Human Pin Cushion after not seeing him since he left the role of Mr Braithwaite in Billy Elliot last year.

Overall we both thoroughly enjoyed the show! The heart warming soundtrack, the incredible acting and the touching story of the bond between two very special sisters.

Nathan and Charlie xoxo

Side Show runs at the Southwark Playhouse until the 3rd of December.