The Southwark Playhouse is fast gaining a reputation for staging premieres of American musicals that have not yet made it across the pond. The Cy Coleman musical The Life has just been announced for next March and I for one can't wait to hear Sharon D. Clarke singing its jazz-infused score. They are currently staging the musical Side Show which was inspired by the true story of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton. Written by Bill Russell and Henry Krieger, whose more famous show Dreamgirls opens at the Savoy Theatre later this month, Side Show is a multi-layered and thought-provoking musical about love and accepting being different.

Two of our best leading ladies Louise Dearman and Laura Pitt-Pulford play the two twins joined together, moving together and side by side throughout. Pitt-Pulford’s Violet is the more thoughtful and sensitive twin while Dearman’s Daisy is the more frivolous and outgoing. We first meet the pair when they are appearing in a seedy Side Show under the control of an oppressive ringmaster, Sir, played by Chris Howell. But when they are spotted by Haydn Oakley’s talent agent Terry and Dominic Hodson’s Buddy, life starts to get complicated for the two as they face both professional and personal challenges.

Director Hannah Chissick’s production is well staged in the space – the freaks emerge from all around the stage and weave in and out of the action throughout. These include Agnes Pure as a tattooed girl, Lala Barlow as a bearded lady and Kirstie Skivington as a half man half woman. But it is the musical numbers that are the real standout in this show. The most heart-rendering and emotional moments come from the songs sung by the twins who want to be ‘Like everyone else’ and express their desire to just be normal and to be loved in ‘Who will love me as I am?’.

Elsewhere the score and the scenes have echoes of Ragtime and Chicago – although Side Show hasn’t gained the reputation and acclaim of its more famous musical counterparts. This production follows the updated 2014 Broadway production which ran for even fewer performances than the original 1997 production. The book still needs work but the songs are its strength and Dearman and Pitt-Pulford’s well-judged and well-sung central performances are reason enough to see this production on the London fringe.