Forge – The Vaults
Reviewed – 4th March 2020
“a bouncy new British musical about a gutsy fighter with a bold message”
Only those with a Mastermind knowledge of women cyclists are likely to have heard of Annie Londonderry, who in 1895 became the first woman to cycle solo around the world.
She became a global celebrity, but her accomplishment was only half of the story: in new musical “Ride” writers Freya Smith and Jack Williams explore the life of this shameless self-publicist who set out to break down preconceptions of exactly what women can achieve.
It’s a bouncy new British musical about a gutsy fighter with a bold message of liberation and achievement yet never shies away from presenting Annie’s less than admirable qualities.
She was born Annie Kopchovsky but hid her Latvian Jewish background and family situation to undertake the cycle ride in 15 months, setting off from Boston saying the trip was the result of a bet between two businessmen.
Trying to sift through her claims is part of the fun of this brassy show, which features an impressive ten memorable songs as it charts the story of an indefatigable show-woman with a vivid imagination, a knack for self promotion (even her new surname stemmed from a sponsorship deal with a spring water company) and a woman’s heart beating for change.
The setting is a newspaper office where an eager Annie (a spirited Amy Parker) ropes in reluctant secretary Martha (Amelia Gabriel, developing the character from timorous to assertive) to recount her deeds – “more than a cycling activity… a liberation!” Both performers capture the personality of their characters perfectly (starting off as opposites but refining themselves as they learn from and believe in each other) and show off fine singing voices to do full justice to the lively score.
In many ways it is a cross between Maxine Peake’s “Beryl,” the story of Yorkshire’s cycling champion Beryl Burton recently revived at the Arcola, and “Queen of the Mist,” Michael John LaChiusa’s musical about Annie Edson Taylor, who determined to be the first person to survive going over the Niagara Falls in a barrel.
But this Bottle Cap Theatre offering courageously faces up to the reality of flawed heroism and gritty determination in a show that strains at the leash to be something very much bigger. While one song proclaims that “Everybody Loves a Lie” there’s a message of never losing sight of who you are to become someone unfamiliar and the joyous challenge of embracing change and progression.
Smith and Williams write with a depth and quality that ensures that even within an all too brief 65 minutes a rounded story is presented which never merely skims the surface. Smith also directs and makes the most of the accomplished performers as well as using every inch of the small set, attractively dressed with period furniture which is cleverly used throughout assisted by careful moody lighting (Tim Kelly).
The writers also play in the dynamic four-piece band on guitar and keys, joined by James Pugliese on bass and Tim Harvey on drums, setting the tone for a new show that genuinely feels fresh and is filled with some lovely melodies which journey between strident, romantic and quietly powerful.
“Ride” is an exciting new musical about people searching for a destination and overcoming self-doubt and it clearly has a life beyond the confines of the seedbed VAULT Festival.
Reviewed by David Guest