RIDE at the Charing Cross Theatre
“a journey into truth, emotions, reinvention, celebrity and human spirit”
A new musical that stormed the VAULT Festival back in March 2020 about a sporting pioneer who may have embellished the truth has blossomed into a fully-fledged show that more than proves its worth at Charing Cross Theatre.
Writers Freya Catrin Smith and Jack Williams explore the life of shameless self-publicist Annie Londonderry, who allegedly became the first woman to cycle solo around the world in 1895, in the captivating and lively “RIDE.”
If the original small-scale production was a beautifully crafted cross-stitch which made the most of one of the Vaults caverns, this revamped and expanded version is a well-embroidered tapestry in which every thread is perfectly placed in a brilliantly used larger space.
Born of Latvian Jewish background Annie Cohen Kopchovsky emigrated with her family to America in 1874/5 but refused to be determined by her past. History (or should that really be her story?) suggests that she wanted to write for a New York newspaper but was approached by two businessmen with a wager of $20,000 that no woman could travel around the world by bicycle in 15 months.
Despite the hype and sensationalism, it’s clear that Annie was a great saleswoman and raconteur, changing her surname to get sponsorship from a spring water company and telling increasingly tall stories during her journey which enthralled the crowds.
“RIDE” is a well-crafted musical about a fighter and storyteller with a timeless message of liberation and achievement, never afraid to present Annie’s less than admirable qualities, yet itself unashamedly being creative with a story about someone who had such a casual relationship with the truth.
At its heart is a story of a New Woman eager for change in society. Scrutinising her claims amidst so much showmanship and self-promotion is part of the fun of this indefatigable show, which tells the tale as honestly as it is able given that it is largely selling the reality of a fake American dream.
There are more songs and a longer running time, yet even now the show seems to be pedalling furiously to be something bigger. Still, with Amy Jane Cook’s design the stage is opened up to allow a journey into imagination and the performances are suitably larger than life.
The setting is a newspaper office where an enthusiastic Annie persuades reluctant and sceptical secretary Martha to help recount her deeds. It is a two-hander where both performers triumph, balancing and playing off each other with care and skill.
As Annie, Liv Andrusier has an egocentric Barnum-like presence, though showing off herself and her accomplishments rather than a collection of circus acts, walking a tightrope between truth and fiction as she agitates and elaborates. She roars her way through the lively numbers – the title song remains a fierce showstopper, one of the best new songs in a contemporary musical; she is bold and brazen as she recounts her truth (“Everybody Loves a Lie” is a paean to the art of humbug) yet grasps the vulnerable as she recalls her family and background in the face of loneliness, anti-Semitism, insults and struggles as a feisty woman in a man’s world.
Yuki Sutton’s Martha is a gem, the timid and dubious assistant becoming a mistress of fabrication, not only taking over the story but also elaborating upon it, becoming a commanding presence in her own right.
While the characters begin as opposites, each suspicious of the other, they gradually learn from and believe in each other, with their contrasts keeping each other on track. And Andrusier and Sutton perform soaring duets that set the stage on fire with vivacious harmony and intensity.
Director Sarah Meadows captures the sense of façade without losing sight of the personal stories, however hard the facts may be to grasp. There is colour, light and shadow in a production that never once glows dull.
The small band excites the moment they play their first note. Led by energetic conductor Sam Young on keys, with Frankie South on guitar and Alex Maxted on percussion, the musicians show understanding of and enthusiasm for every cracking musical number, all of which are memorable and of the highest quality.
Originally produced by Bottle Cap Theatre it is no surprise that the show was snapped up by Deus Ex Machina Productions, who surely recognised the show’s beating heart of liberation from trauma and expectations, courage in adversity and the embrace of change and progression.
Smith and Williams write with depth and quality and it’s hard to believe that the near-perfect smaller show has been developed into something even better. They must be contenders for one of the best writing partnerships out there and with “RIDE” they have created a work of fresh energy, and unbelievable fun.
Magically profound and stunningly creative this might just be one of the best musicals this year, a journey into truth, emotions, reinvention, celebrity and human spirit.
Reviewed on 31st August 2022
by David Guest
Photography by Danny Kaan
Previously reviewed at this venue: