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Side Show review at CLF Art Cafe, London – ‘enthusiastic but uneven’

Lauren Edwards and Katie Beudert in Side Show at CLF Cafe, London. Photo: Michael Smith
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This is fledgling company Pint of Wine’s first production. Its stated aim is to challenge theatrical convention and push boundaries. Bill Russell and Henry Krieger’s Off-Broadway musical Side Show – recently revived at Southwark Playhouse – is a canny choice as its is littered with the unconventional.

The show tells the true story of the Hilton twins, conjoined at the hip, who rose from humble beginnings as side show exhibits to become celebrity vaudeville stars of their day.

Director Dom O’Hanlon has several good ideas, but ultimately this is a very safe and conventional staging, with a cast made up of both amateur and professional performers. The RSC and the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch have both incorporated amateurs into shows but here it’s a mixed blessing. There are some fine vocal performances and soaring harmonies from the ensemble but compromises are evident with the acting and movement.

John Reddel’s musical direction is a big plus point. It provides a great sound for Krieger’s meaty score. His leading performers Lauren Edwards, as Violet, and Katie Beudert, as Daisy, have both enough power and charisma to really sell the score and they are matched by Matthew James Nicholas as the twins’ manager Terry, who’s sensational Private Conversation is a show-stopper in terms of emotional value and vocal power. Russell’s book is problematic in places and it is here, in less assured hands, the production falters.

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Enthusiastic, but unremarkable staging of an unconventional Off-Broadway musical