Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Sep 23 – Oct 16, 2016
Book & Lyrics: Bill Russell
Music: Henry Krieger
Director: Richard Carroll
Choreography: Amy Campbell
Musical Direction: Conrad Hamill
Cast: Daniel Belle, Gabriel Brown, Laura Bunting, Kerrie Anne Greenland, Michael Hart, Bree Langridge, Lachlan Martin, Joshua Mulheran, Elenoa Rokobaro, Berynn Schwerdt, Timothy Springs, Hannah Waterman
Image by Kurt Sneddon
Daisy and Violet Hilton were conjoined twins who in the 1930s, caused a sensation in the American vaudeville circuit. We meet them in the musical Side Show, as their ascent to fame begins, and encounter the highs and lows of the women’s irrefutable difference, in a world determined to treat them as anything but normal. Its plot is unconventional, and for a musical to have at its centre an unpredictable story, is remarkably refreshing. Instead of distinct good and bad categories as is common for the genre, characters exist in spaces of grey, resulting in a tale that surprises with its realism. The songs are beautifully composed, with unusual depth and textures that forsake formulaic writing in favour of accurate representations of human emotion.
Laura Bunting and Kerrie Anne Greenland are the splendid twins, with a persuasive sisterly closeness that keeps us firmly on their side. Bunting plays the extrovert Daisy with an alluring effervescence, while Greenland uses an earnest approach to tug at the heartstrings. Both are excellent singers, although Greenland’s very big notes are undeniably scene-stealing. In the role of Buddy is Gabriel Brown, who impresses with nifty footwork, along with a striking presence, for a character memorable for his exceptional charm. Director Richard Carroll successfully introduces a dignified air to the “freak show” context, but the production often seems too stagnant and minimal in its use of space. There is an admirable restraint in Carroll’s rejection of creating scenes that are overly sentimental, but the show would benefit from greater amplification of its more humorous elements.
Side Show is an elegant work that is respectful in its portrayals, but there is a persistent gentleness that can make it feel somewhat distant. Art must always be aware of cliché and do all it can to avoid it, like it does on this occasion, but the temptation to resort to the tried and tested is always present. The musical format has a strong tendency towards the “garden-variety”, mainly due to commercial pressures, but also because of the seemingly inherent limitations of the genre. There are few avant-garde musicals for good reason. It is a theatrical form with rules that cannot be broken, and that insists on subjugation of its artists, but for some of those who do give in, the rewards can be spectacular. True fulfilment might have been elusive, but Daisy and Violet had a taste of fame and fortune by giving the crowds what they want, and that is a level of success many could only ever dream of.