Review: RIDE, Charing Cross Theatre

Back after a run at VAULT Festival in 2020, this new musical about the first woman to cycle around the globe is an imaginative and entertaining feat.

By: Sep. 01, 2022
Review: RIDE, Charing Cross Theatre

Review: RIDE, Charing Cross Theatre It's been quite the journey for Freya Catrin Smith and Jack Williams' original musical. Ride was first seen at VAULT Festival in 2020; it won a Show of the Week Award as well as an OFFCOM Award, and its title song was shortlisted for a Stiles + Drewe Best New Song Prize in the same year. After an entire pandemic and then some, it's back on stage with a revamped look and a new cast.

While the project is fairly traditional in structure and production history, its tale and its heroine are anything but. It's 1985 and Annie Londonderry has just returned to America after cycling around the globe. The first woman to do so, she's now trying to get some publicity but, as a Jewish immigrant in a deeply conservative patriarchal society, it's a tough job.

But who is Annie Londonderry? Née Annie Kapchovsky in Latvia and emigrated to the United States at the age of four in 1874, twenty years later two men wagered she could circumnavigate the planet on a bicycle. Or so she used to tell. An elusive figure to this day, Annie had an exceptionally creative relationship with the truth.

She chose her surname after a sponsorship deal with Londonderry Lithia Spring Water and continued to be very theatrical with her narrative. After living in poverty for the majority of her life, she cycled 26,000 miles from country to country, giving lectures on philosophy and medicine thanks to fictitious degrees and selling advertisements that she would place on her body.

Smith and Williams frame her story within a pitch to the New York World. Aided by the initially reluctant secretary Martha (Yuki Sutton), Annie (Liv Andruiser) delivers an imaginative and truly entertaining account of her unlikely trip. Andruiser plays her as an agitator and troublemaker, unashamed in her embellishments of reality.

Egocentric, quick-witted, and deeply scarred, she willingly offers details of her romances but is adamant to gloss over the hardships and her desire to distance herself from her past. It's only with ten minutes until the end that Annie's persona, crafted to push people away from the ugly aspects of her life, comes down and Andruiser shows a deep vulnerability that's so far been concealed by her coping response.

Just like Martha, we are fascinated by Annie's time on the road but want more. After Amy Jane Cook's lavish, beautiful set design has taken her from Europe to Japan and across all the oceans in the guise of a wooden Victorian office, a clothesline looms at the back, visually tying Annie down to a childhood riddled with antisemitic trauma.

Sutton's Martha goes from a meek presence to a bona fide powerhouse, eventually taking over from Annie - who's briefly too broken in light of her memories - and finishing her pitch to grand acclaim. Both remarkable and eclectic performers, they are tireless and energetic throughout the interval-less 90-minute show. Directed by Sarah Meadows, their synergy makes the four-hander work seamlessly.

Smith and Williams use a classic contemporary musical sound with moderately catchy tunes that shine in their narrative power. They write colourful personalities that struggle to be open, yet they have Annie and Martha rush to show a sudden understanding and intimacy.

Regrettably, Annie's struggles aren't explored much further than "Miles Away From Boston" and a hair-raising rendition of "Shlof Mayn Kind" towards the end, which sets a striking 11 songs of adventure and excitement against two of sheer self-exploration.

Still, Ride is an impressive feat in both material and execution, delving into female turn-of-the-century entrepreneurship in the face of dire necessity. It introduces an extraordinary woman gifted with cunning enterprise and it tells a marvellous story - whether it's true or not.

Ride runs at the Charing Cross Theatre until 17 September.


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