Friday, 11 November 2016

Sideshow

This biography of conjoined twins Violet and Daisy Hilton reveals there were never such devoted sisters

Written by Richard Barber


The opening line of the opening song leaves you in little doubt as to what lies ahead. ‘Come look at the freaks/Come gape at the geeks’ sings the major-domo, the imperious sir (Chris Howell, uncannily channelling Ed Balls). And so we’re invited into the slightly nightmarish side show in which the acts – Lizard Man, the Bearded Lady, the Human Pin Cushion and so on – are paraded for our delectation.

This is 1920s america, when people were prepared to pay top dollar to gawk at those less fortunate than themselves. And no act pulled in a bigger crowd than real life, Brighton-born Daisy and Violet Hilton, twins quite literally joined at the hip.Richard-Barber-colour-176

Sir rules the roost, claiming he owns the girls and never paying them for their daily round of humiliation. Escape looks hopeless until the appearance of slick talent scouts, Terry and Buddy (well acted, well sung by Haydn Oakley and Dominic Hodson), who seduce them with the promise of vaudeville – another kind of prison, as it turns out, albeit with brighter lights and fancier frocks. Not that it matters in many ways where the conjoined twins fetch up: physically inseparable, how can they ever find individual love?

Henry Krieger’s strong, if sometimes slightly repetitive, score is well matched by Bill Russell’s nifty lyrics in a fluid production directed by Hannah Chissick, who keeps the action flowing within Southwark Playhouse’s snug parameters.

I got a bit lost as to Terry and Buddy’s romantic intentions in regard to one or other of the sisters and there’s the further complication of old friend, Jake (Jay Marsh, in fine baritone form), entering the love stakes rather late in the day.

But, in the end, the story’s inescapable thread is that the greatest love of all exists between the girls themselves. Indeed, their final duet, ‘I Will Never Leave You’, its (intentional) irony apart, is almost heart-stoppingly poignant.

It’s superbly performed by Louise Dearman (as Daisy) and Laura Pitt-Pulford (as Violet), the overwhelming twin reason for seeing the show, their singing throughout a match for anything you might encounter on Shaftesbury avenue. And they each bring real depth to bright-eyed Daisy, forever dreaming of silver-screen stardom, and the less assured, more introspective Violet.

Not a big show, then, and perhaps of niche interest, but you have to doff your cap at this enterprising fringe theatre’s policy of never settling for the predictable.

Until 3 December at the Southwark Playhouse, London SE1: 020-7407 0234, www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk 


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