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Leicester Square Theatre presents


Sideshow – The Weirdest Show on Earth


Stewart Pemberton

Photo by Matt Hennem


Hosted by Des O’Connor and DJ Margret the Gimp


Leicester Square Theatre Basement


1 Oct – 17 Dec 2010







A review by Richard J Thornton for EXTRA! EXTRA!

When you book a show in the West End, the first thing you might be thinking, after the excitement of course, is how much you’ll have to squint to see the stage. Not so with Sideshow, a cosy grotesque cabaret nestled in the basement of the Leicester Square Theatre where you’re so close to the acts that they use you as their props.

The concept of Sideshow is to providea platter of five freaks or wonders each Friday night from now until Christmas, always overseen by the majestic compere Des O’Connor. With the rise of cabaret shows being afflicted by the ‘hen-night syndrome’ – an audience full of drunk ladies who spend more time applying lipstick than watching the stage – Sideshow creeps to the rescue with its bristling intimacy and uncompromising freakishness.

O’Connor is a lyrically delightful and linguistically delicious clown-faced creature who spins words like a spider spins webs and with the help of his stage-hand Margaret the Gimp, calmly and theatrically directs proceedings.  In this show, the truth of his showmanship was revealed when technical difficulties halted an act’s appearance on stage. Instead of leaving the audience dry, he softly suggested he would play another comic ditty on his ukulele, to which the crowd warmly applauded approval, not least because his songs were among the most entertaining moments of the evening.

But that’s not to say the main acts disappoint: Toby Williams’ Dr. George Ryegold provided twisted comic anecdotes that sent your bones rattling and Mat Fraser’s polished, disability-based performance (he’s naturally armless) showed the theatrical professionalism of a man who’s spent his life in the circus. In fact, Fraser is one of those complicated acts who base their comedy on the practical hilarities of their condition, which, for those unaccustomed to such unabashed self-deprecation, can be rather unsettling. This relatively new phenomenon that’s spawned from the anti-PC backlash has left disabled comics in a unique artistic space with many taboo-breaking avenues to explore – and what more perfect place to explore them than the weirdest show on earth! But despite Fraser’s efforts as the headliner, Stewart Pemberton’s rhythmic, tap-dance infused, inverted juggling stole the show. Poised on an unassuming black table, Pemberton lay down a beat in the form of balls being thrown downwards to produce a sound similar to a kick drum, with this steady, he began to click a harmonious rhythm with his tap shoes. This audible delight coupled with the visual spectacle of piston arms and marionette legs created a multi-sensory one-man extravaganza that sent the crowd’s lower jaws onto the table.

As each act in the collection is wholly individual, one might worry that their juxtaposition will jar. Thankfully, O’Connor’s flexible and self-aware hosting oils the selection seamlessly, and effortlessly binds the performance into a cohesive show. But despite O’Connor’s style and skill, the night failed to overwhelm. The earlier acts were impressive in their pain thresholds, but little else, and left you thinking whether they’d been pulled off the performing streets of Covent Garden to fill the bill. This might be more of a comment on the current waves of high quality street performance, and a lack of willing from audiences to pay, than the nature of this cabaret theatre. But nonetheless, if audiences are now desensitised to shock and therefore unimpressed with people torturing their bodies on stage, the artists must evolve in order to retain their viewers’ attention. Having said this, there wasn’t a person in the audience yawning as Dave Tusk crept on to his bed of nails, and perhaps we must remind ourselves of the superior thrill of live performance, as opposed to inferior Jackass-style on screen stunts.

Sideshow might not be the West End spectacle to invite your grandma to, or even a hardened theatre lover. But if you’re looking for a cosy hole full of squirm on a Friday night, the furnished dungeon at the Leicester Square Theatre will be a suitable delight.



Matt Fraser in Sideshow


Box office: 08448 733433 /


Basement Theatre
6 Leicester Place

Every Friday from
October 1 - December 17,
plus in December, Saturdays 4, 11 & 18 at 9.30pm







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