Prior to the London premiere of this musical it had two runs on Broadway, but neither was particularly successful. The original opening in 1997 closed after just 90 performances and a revival in 2014 proved to be equally disappointing.
Perhaps a show about conjoined twins featuring support characters called Lizard Man and Dog Boy didn’t have wide public appeal, although it has gained something of a cult following. With music by Dreamgirls creator Henry Kreiger, and a book and lyrics by Bill Russell, it’s based on the true story of Daisy and Violet Hilton, played here in an inspired piece of casting by two of our brightest musical theatre stars, Louise Dearman and Laura Pitt-Pulford.
Abandoned by their unmarried mother, the English-born twins, who are literally joined at the hip, end up alongside other “freaks” being exploited in a Texas side show under the tyrannical rule of the ruthless Sir, played here by Chris Howell.
It’s a heart-wrenching story and director Hannah Chissick handles it superbly, knowing when to play things big as in the visceral ensemble numbers (Come Look at the Freaks), but also keeping things nuanced in more delicate and intimate moments.
It’s beautifully played by Dearman and Pitt-Pulford, who both sing like a dream, squeezing every ounce of emotion from the show’s two big duets, Who Will Love Me As I Am and I Will Never Leave You.
With those outstanding central performances and a terrific ensemble, hopefully it’s third time lucky for this powerfully original and intensely moving show.
Side Show is at the Southwark Playhouse until 3 December