Side Show at Southwark PlayhouseCultureTheatre
There’s a macabre fascination that surrounds the Victorian pastime of freak shows. The horrifying treatment of the “freaks” and their subsequent uprising has given us Phantom of the Opera and American Horror Story: Freak Show. Side Show is based on the true story of Brighton-born twins Violet and Daisy whose legacies live on in books, musicals and films inspired by their hardships.
The set is outstanding, a perfect embodiment of the roaring 20s: retro without being too literal, glitzy without being over the top, flashy without being tacky. It allows the costumes and actors to shine through while juxtaposed against their grotesque “deformities”. It’s an ingenious design that fits the space flawlessly, and transforms rapidly to create courtrooms, circus arenas and more.
The costuming is beautiful, in particular the New Year’s dresses for the twins, however the “joined at the hip” effect isn’t convincing, and they end up looking like they have separation anxiety as opposed to a physical condition. It would have been interesting to see the characterisation of being conjoined developed further into the costume and the act itself, rather than enforced by thin fabric. Apart from this, Louise Dearman and Laura Pitt-Pulford give show-stopping performances as Violet and Daisy, with incredibly powerful vocals.
The story follows the standard arch you’d expect, and is ultimately a tale of hope, stardom, and the hard but rewarding reality of acceptance.
It’s an entertaining watch, and it’s easy to become comfortably invested, even if it isn’t particularly imaginative. The songs rely on rather obvious metaphors of opening and closing doors etc that leave little to the imagination, and you may lose interest halfway in some of the lengthier ballads. Music by Henry Krieger is renowned, in particular his composition for Dream Girls which won him a Tony Award. Yet the powerful ballads he’s famed for are disappointingly hit and miss here, despite the incredible talent evident in all the cast. The songs seem too intense for such a small space and it feels like the cast are holding back in an effort not to deafen us.
Appropriately weird and wonderful in time for Halloween, Side Show is a great family outing. The music is (sometimes) catchy and Disney-esque, and the visuals are incredibly strong, with an unchallenging story to grasp and a simple moral core: an enjoyable evening.
Side Show is at Southwark Playhouse from 21st October until 3rd December 2016. Book your tickets here.