Like the musical The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which came to Southwark Playhouse earlier in the year, the production team for Ride have taken the decision to devote a couple of pages in their show’s programme to explain how much money they’ve spent on putting on the show, from props and set to advertising and marketing – in essence, the books aren’t balanced, and they are guaranteed to make a loss by the end of the run. They are, however, hopeful to recoup their losses through future productions. That it has made a comeback already after a run at the Charing Cross Theatre in 2022 is a testament to the team’s commitment, and based on what I’ve seen (both then and now), I would hope plans could be put in place to allow more people to witness an exciting piece of new British musical theatre.
The story of Annie Londonderry (Liv Andrusier), as told in this show, centres on a pedal bicycle journey around the world. Taken literally, of course, this is quite impossible, given the oceans that needed to be crossed. At the risk of pedantry, something which Londonderry herself couldn’t feasibly be accused of, being as good a saleswoman as she was a storyteller, the best that could be accurately said of her exploits is that she circumnavigated the globe with a bicycle, rather than on one. Be that as it may, her 1894-95 expedition was a busy one, and did indeed involve considerable amounts of cycling – the final leg alone, from San Francisco to Chicago, was (according to a quick Google search) 2,132 miles.
Martha (Katy Ellis) shares the stage with Annie throughout, initially as a member of staff at the venue where Annie is giving what she thought was a press conference but turns out to be a sales pitch, apparently to a room full of newspaper investors. Martha becomes all sorts of characters, from miscellaneous ride companions to an impertinent customs officer, which allows for a considerable amount of versatility. Sam Young leads a three-piece band, which make the briefest of appearances at curtain call – I couldn’t help chuckling at a piece of set rising to reveal them, only to obscure them again just as suddenly seconds later.
While Annie is revealed to be an unreliable narrator – when a fundamental point in her story is revealed by Martha to be a lie, all she can do is unashamedly throw her arms up and give the audience an exaggerated smile – this works in the show’s favour, keeping the audience guessing as to which elements are truth, total fabrications or embellishments. There are a good number of twists and turns in the plot to keep things interesting. Annie’s personality and approach have much applicability to modern society: is there much difference, for instance, between her selective personal history and the way in which (certain) people on social media these days portray their lives as being happy and successful, without showing everyone the darker and more mundane elements, which ‘nobody’ wants to see anyway?
The tunes in the twelve musical numbers are easy to listen to, even if they are quite unmemorable the morning after the night before. Andrusier’s Annie is able to hit the big notes as well as deliver poignancy in softer showtunes, and the on-stage chemistry between her and Ellis’ Martha works brilliantly. It takes a while to discover the ‘real’ reasons why Annie embarked on such an adventure, but this is a Ride worth taking. A compelling and creative production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
It’s 1894 and as the bicycle is sweeping change across America, Annie Londonderry has a wager to settle: can a woman cycle across the world? 4 continents in 15 months: easy! Except she’s only been on a bicycle twice. From moneymaking masquerades as a Harvard professor to hunting tigers with German royalty, Annie spins the media into a frenzy with tales of her thrilling escapades. But with time running out and press coverage spiralling, she soon discovers that no matter how many miles she rides, the secrets of her past are never far behind.
IN ASSOCIATION WITH CURVE PRESENTS
– A NEW MUSICAL –
BY FREYA CATRIN SMITH AND JACK WILLIAMS
19 JUL 2023 – 12 AUG 2023