Accomplished multi-hyphenate Annie Londonderry sets off to circum-cycle the globe in a charmingly inventive new musical. Here’s our Ride review.
In 1894, Latvian-born Bostonian Annie Londonderry had an unlikely mission. Approached by a pair of wealthy and eccentric businessmen and taking advantage of the independence granted by a relatively new invention, Annie resolved to become the first woman to cycle unsupported around the globe.
This extraordinary story serves as the setup for Freya Catrin Smith and Jack Williams’ inventive new musical, which sees Annie (Liv Andrusier) regaling her tale to a room of top newspaper ‘gentlemen’ (the audience), ably assisted by unwitting secretary Martha (Katy Ellis).
It’s certainly a structure which takes some getting used to and, in truth, never fully finds its feet. That the entire story is regaled as an all-singing, all-dancing duologue to a room full of incredibly indulgent media tycoons requires maybe one suspension of disbelief too far.
Thankfully, Ride is so relentlessly entertaining that the slightly clunky structure rarely matters.
The songs, performed by the remarkably youthful quartet of Sam Young, Cerys McKenna, Frankie South and Alex Maxted, are wonderfully propulsive, driving the story forward with pep and relentless enthusiasm. In the starring role, Andrusier’s voice proves she deserves every plaudit thrown her way from the show’s acclaimed run at the Charing Cross theatre. If anything, her non-singing performance does feel slightly too big for such an intimate space – but its no mean feat that she remains charming enough to carry the bulk of the show on her shoulders.
Possibly the real standout of the show, though, is Katy Ellis’ Martha. Swapping between the hilariously nervy secretary and whatever multi-roles are required for the story, her comic timing is exceptional throughout. As Martha, her jumpiness creates a number of golden opportunities for slapstick, while her ability to jump between a French immigration officer, German inventor and discontented lecturer at will is astonishingly accomplished stuff.
The whole thing looks fantastic, too. Sarah Meadows’ direction and Natasha Harrison’s choreography make incredibly inventive use of the deceptively simple office setting, with drawers, chairs and piles of old newspapers adding height and wonderful energy to the performance. It helps that Amy Jane Cook’s set is a real treasure trove; secret compartments, swinging bookshelves and lamps which flash in time with a bicycle bell all but demand an excited ‘ooo’ whenever a new feature is revealed.
The story itself might lean slightly too far into a conventional ‘finding yourself odyssey’ narrative, but when the journey is this much fun, it’s very difficult to care. Ride is a brilliantly creative and charmingly fresh little musical. This is one ride you’ll never want to end.
Ride is playing at the Southwark Playhouse – Elephant until 12 August.