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Side Show – Southwark Playhouse

November 9, 2016

(seen at the afternoon performance on 5th November 2016)

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This show belongs firmly to the design and costuming team. Takis gives us a seedy circus feel of lit arches and staircases, with boxes wheeled around to stand on and store things. Natasha Lawes adds make up and prosthetics to the costumes, giving us lizards, tattoos, half man / woman and co-joined twins that fascinate the eye and help the actors immensely with their performances. Only “dog boy” (Oliver Marshall) looks perhaps more Chewbacca than is helpful.

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For this show is about freaks. At the centre, paired Daisy and Violet Hilton (Louise Dearman / Laura Pitt-Pulford), rescued from exhibition and abuse (in all ways)

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by “father” Sir (Chris Howell) and elevated to national fame on the legit “Vaudeville” circuit by Buddy (Dominic Hodson) and Terry (Hayden Oakley).

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The rest of the company play all other roles, from freaks to journalists (resist all jokes). As freaks, Lizard Man (Nuno Quiemado), Half Man Half Woman (Kirstie Skivington), Tattooed Girl (Agnes Pure) and Fortune Teller (Genevieve Taylor) shine in particular. Jake (Jay Marsh), fierce protector – and admirer – of the twins is also outstanding in a role with a emotional huge range.

This is, though, the twins show, and they sing and act everything they can out of this. Their work together is impressive, synchronisation to Olympic standard. No wonder Sir,

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and agents Buddy and Terry wished to keep their company. The strength of the show and their performances is in making this unusual situation so credible.

Sadly, there is a reason this show isn’t more widely seen… the book simply doesn’t work. Lengthy “back story” “Flashback and Trial” kills the pace of the first half, and we are left wondering what happened to the sisters at the end, too (they were abandoned, penniless by a promoter in 1960, got jobs in a shop where they were left, and died of Hong Kong Flu in 1969) missing something far more theatrical.

The rhyming dictionary appears a little more than a Broadway show may tolerate too, and the score just carries the show, but fails to soar for the key points in the tale and create a definitive “showstopper” of a number that the atmosphere cries out for.

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This is probably going to be the rarest chance to see “Side Show,” and I’d venture the best possible one too. The production is perfection in achieving its aim of presenting a difficult musical to the highest standard. Even if the show itself is revealed as too weak to shine in itself, this cast more than generate enough energy to carry it off with a far greater than expected success.

 

Oh, and just to finish, a couple proposed, and accepted, this afternoon, in front of everyone after curtain-call and with the assistance of the cast to get them to the stage. I wish them well – a different end to the show, for sure.

 

All photographs: Pamela Raith. Used by kind permission.

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