Based on the lives of conjoined twins & stage performers Violet & Daisy Hilton, Side Show was written by Bill Russell (with music from Henry Krieger) and was first performed on Broadway in 1997; the show had its UK première at Southwark Playhouse two years ago. With hit film The Greatest Showman in the back of their minds, the Bromley Players have chosen this rarely performed musical as their next production at the Bob Hope Theatre in Eltham.
Daisy and Violet are the stars of a sideshow that also includes acts such as a bearded lady, Dog Boy, a fortune teller and the albino girl – everything is overseen by ringmaster, The Boss, who keeps his “freaks” in line via exploitation and abuse. So when Daisy and Violet see a way to escape their unfulfilling life in the sideshow they leap at the opportunity, swapping it for the bright lights of the Orpheum Circuit thanks to visiting talent scout Terry and performer Buddy. Though things seem rosy on the outside, the twins soon start clashing over how they want to live their lives; Daisy is all for fame & glory, whereas Violet would much prefer a ‘normal’ life with a loving husband. It seems like romance with Terry & Buddy might be on the cards, but following an interrogation from a group of reporters the girls are unsure as to where they stand. Will it ever be possible for them to live the lives they so desperately desire?
It’s quite a bold move to put on a show that’s not particularly well known outside certain circles but, given the content and themes, this has definitely been timed right to capture the public’s imagination. Though for me (and this is no reflection on this particular production), the show is actually a little dull. It’s quite one-paced, with a lot of slow emotional numbers and many duets between the sisters – yes, both of those things are kind of understandable in this case, but it makes for quite a maudlin, repetitive show. It’s lacking in jeopardy & suspense, and there are far too many bits of dialogue that are sung when they could just be spoken instead.
Bromley Players, however, have done a fantastic job with the source material. Visually speaking, it’s a dream; there is an incredible array of costumes, some top-notch choreography throughout (even incorporating a tap routine), and some nice touches on a minimalist set. The rolling panels that provide a slightly different backdrop are perhaps more hassle than they’re worth (the casters are quite noisy and they appear to be troublesome to lock in place), but the ambition in the design has to be applauded.
The performances, too, are excellent all round. Clear standouts are Deborah Heard and Nicola Henderson as Daisy and Violet – though conjoined twins are supposed to be identical, it’s quite apt that the pair look ever so slightly different as it reflects the fact that they have very distinct personalities. Heard & Henderson have truly beautiful voices that blend together perfectly, doing justice to what must be extremely demanding roles.
Side Show may not be my cup of tea, but if you love this musical then you will absolutely adore this production. Bromley Players is yet another example of an am-dram society that is anything but amateur in its approach, and with a shedload of talented performers on its books. The Bob Hope Theatre isn’t too far out from central London, so if you’re looking for something to do either tonight or tomorrow then why not check this show out? There are still a handful of tickets left for the remaining performances, so grab them while you can!
Side Show runs at the Bob Hope Theatre until 27 October 2018. Tickets are available online or from the box office.