Ride is a energetic new musical by Freya Catrin Smith and Jack Williams which tells the little known true story of Annie Londonderry, who in 1894, set off from her adoptive home in Boston on a wager to become the first women to cycle across the world.
Annie was a Jewish immigrant from Latvia born Annie Cohen Kopchovsky and was very much a women ahead of her time. Never letting societal prejudice that she was a Jewish woman and mother stop her from seizing opportunities to advance herself and make money to better life for herself and family. Annie is a natural wheeler dealer: she takes the (alleged) wager to make the unlikely trip and starts negotiating advertising space on her bicycle and clothes (which saw her change her surname to Londonderry who were a sponsor). She happily gave speeches, often about subjects of which she had no expertise and blithely spun improbable tales to an eager media about her fighting with tigers.
Fifteen months after completing the trip with days to spare, Annie (excellently embodied by relative newcomer Liv Andrusier) is pitching her incredible story to newspaper executives (that’ll be us the audience) for a job writing a column in their paper. Annie is reluctantly aided by Martha, a newspaper secretary who is roped in help visualise Annie’s experiences and the various characters she meets on her tough journey. Martha is played characterfully by another newbie Yuki Sutton, who is well cast as someone lacking self-confidence is a perfect contrast to Annie’s boisterous personality. Through the process of re-enacting Annie’s tales, we witness Martha growing in strength of character as she warms to her position as Annie’s sidekick. This is hilariously showcased when she assumes the role of a surly French custom official.
The Annie Londonderry we first meet is a happy-go-lucky confident, show-woman, however as her story and indeed her journey progresses, we see the real Annie behind the public façade, especially during her encounter and romance with fellow American and cyclists Fred Rose (played by Martha, of course). Fred sees the real Annie through the chatter and bravado and shows her uncomfortable, home truths. Andrusier is skillful in presenting the many layers of Annie’s personality showcasing her highs and lows. It’s a bravura performance whether Annie is jumping on furniture, cane swinging in a dance routine to the song Everyone Loves a Lie or in the darker, heartfelt moments when she sings a melancholic Latvian lullaby Shlof Mayn Kind to her children.
Even as a two hander, the show impresses thanks to Andrusier and Sutton whose talent shines throughout. The pair work hard to deliver engaging and powerful performances. Both are strong in singing and characterisation, harmonising beautifully together on the challenging, octave-ranging score.
Ride is a fascinating story of female empowerment which will appeal to cycling and non cycling fans alike. Coupled with memorable and instant songs, glossy staging and production values, it’s a gem of a show that shouldn’t be missed.
The Recs recommends you peddle fast to Charing Cross Theatre to see
the wonderful Andrusier and Sutton before they move on to bigger things – ★★★★★ (5 stars)