Never let the truth get in the way of a good story, or so it is said. Ride has its own theories as to why Annie Londonderry (Liv Andrusier) significantly embellished her account about being the first woman to cycle around the world. For one thing, her actual name was Annie Cohen Kopchovsky, and she was a Latvian Jew whose family had emigrated to the United States in 1875. Being a Jewish woman, she felt, looking back on the events of the time (which is what this show does), that both misogyny and anti-Semitism were sufficiently widespread such that she wouldn’t be taken seriously anyway. So what did she have to lose?
Some of the themes explored in this broad narrative are fairly standard fare for musical theatre – overcoming opposition, even triumphing over adversity, and trying to remain positive in the face of substantial challenges, both physical and psychological. Annie, twenty-four when she first set out, had little bicycle experience prior to her epic journey, and to cut a long story short, she picked up some tips and tricks along the way. The show takes the format of a ‘pitch’ – it could hardly be called an interview – in which Annie tries to convince a panel of editors and senior journalists at a newspaper why she would be a useful addition to their team.
This explains the appearance, and involvement, of Martha (Yuki Sutton), a secretary at the newspaper. She walks into the room with a tray of drinks and glasses, and Annie seizes the opportunity to ask her to assist with retelling her story of circumnavigating the globe with a bicycle (‘with’ not ‘on’ – she didn’t cycle across the Pacific). At which point, one wonders quite how much of this story was going to be descriptive and how much, if any, would be fully dramatised, given the fairly limited time available to summarise, one way or another, fifteen months of travel.
It’s an engaging experience: for the record, I was battling a head cold and had failed to double-check that the ‘cold and flu relief’ medication I had taken earlier was of the non-drowsy variety. Still, I didn’t miss a beat, which at surface level is quite surprising, irrespective of my condition, given that cycling is one of those activities far better experienced as a participant rather than a spectator. That said, this isn’t so much about cycling as it is about what Annie’s cycling adventures signify, with lyrics about “leaving the past behind” and “liberation”.
The sound design (Andrew Johnson) is remarkable – there have been numerous occasions over the years in the same theatre where I’ve missed lines completely, or characters’ voices were overwhelmed by the musicians. Not here. Everything was crystal clear and impeccably balanced. On occasion, sections of spoken dialogue rattle on just a little too long before the next song makes its entrance, and the show’s brisk pace isn’t quite sustained to the end, even if it does pick up speed sufficiently for a happy musical ending.
Sutton doesn’t just play Martha – there’s a plethora of characters, and this being a show with a global narrative, and various accents. This warts-and-all account doesn’t sugar-coat Annie’s life and times, and this exciting and delightful production is as nuanced as it is perceptive.
Review by Chris Omaweng
It’s 1895 and Annie Londonderry has returned victorious to America, hailed as the first woman ever to cycle around the world. She’s pioneering, she’s plucky, and she’s pitching her story to the men who run the newspapers.
From the infamous wager that set her journey in motion, to her freewheeling adventures with captains, cowboys, and customs officials, Annie just knows her tales will spin readers into a frenzy.
But as she approaches rough terrain, and unexpected paths throw her off balance, can Annie regain her footing, or will she confront the past she left behind?
This new musical by Freya Catrin Smith and Jack Williams, directed by Sarah Meadows, charts one woman’s radical act and explores the lies we tell to escape ourselves. RIDE gears up for its first full production for a limited run at London’s Charing Cross Theatre from 25 August – 17 September.
Creative team: Freya Catrin Smith
Music, Book & Lyrics
Jack Williams – Music, Book & Lyrics
Sarah Meadows – Director
Amy Jane Cook – Designer
Natasha Harrison – Movement Director /Choreographer
Sam Young – Musical Director
Macy Schmidt – Orchestrator
Jamie Platt – Lighting Designer
Andy Johnson – Sound Designer
Olivia Munk – Assistant Director
DEM Productions – Producer and General Manager
Freya Catrin Smith (she/her) Music, Book & Lyrics
DEM Productions Presents
A New Musical
By Freya Catrin Smith and Jack Williams
Directed by Sarah Meadows
Charing Cross Theatre
London WC2N 6NL