“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.
“Holy What’s excruciatingly incisive and nuanced production wrenches this classical play from its historical resting place and plants it firmly in the modern canon”
Honestly, Greek plays make me think of my GCSE drama theory, and just the idea of actually sitting through one makes me want to take a nap. Fortunately, Holy What’s production is having none of that.
Antigone (Annabel Baldwin) and Ismene (Rachel Hosker), two teenage sisters, are holding up the home front whilst their brothers fight against one another in a war for leadership of the city. The sisters spend their time playing games, talking about boys and sex, and venturing in to city’s nightlife.
When the soldiers finally return, both brothers are dead. Creon, their uncle and the newly appointed leader of the city, proclaims that one brother will be honourably buried and the other will be left unburied on the battlefield. Antigone insists that no-one should be punished this way, no matter their crime. Despite Creon’s decree of death for anyone who tries to bury her brother’s body, Antigone is insistent.
And that is the shortest possible synopsis for the ultimate Greek tragedy. On top of that, we’ve got incest, lots of tragic death, heroic acts, love, and let’s not forget the thing that brings it all together, the lashings and lashings of family drama. All this, undertaken by a two-hander in one act.
Under Ali Pidsley’s direction, Antigone focuses solely on the intense relationship between the sisters. Clearly far less interested in the particular twists and turns of the original character-packed plot, Lulu Raczka’s script is an immensely intimate portrayal of sisterly love. Whilst the generalities of Sophocles’ plot remains, the dialect is hyper modern. But somehow, despite plenty of talk of battlefields and death by starvation in a cave, it doesn’t feel uncomfortably anachronistic. Instead, we’re thoroughly drawn in to crushing moral dilemmas, and the impossible choices between doing the right thing and doing what’s necessary to survive.
The performances of both Baldwin and Hosker are heartbreakingly honest. Their delivery so closely mirrors the intimate nuances of sisterly love that if it weren’t for the fact that this is a rewrite of a Greek drama, I’d assume a lot of the script was verbatim.
The setting (Lizzy Leech), a small tiered platform filled with soil, evades complete understanding but is effective nonetheless. The dirt provides a play pit for the sisters in their jollier moments, and evidence of Antigone’s actions later in the plot. And all that aside, it provides a pleasing texture to a story that otherwise requires few props.
Lighting (Tim Kelly) and sound (Kieran Lucas), both deceptively simple, play almost as much of a role in this production as the script. Lucas’ score artfully navigates between low ominous rumbles, thumping soundscapes and noughties R&B. Kelly’s lighting is similarly emotionally calculating and playful, amping up the drama when a two-person cast can’t quite cut it.
My only real criticism for this production is that the soundtrack was a little too loud at various points – I had to plug my ears for a good couple of minutes in the middle, and I was still capable of hearing everything. And my other criticism would be that I’d appreciate if the lights stayed down for a minute or two at the end so that no-one could see my runny nose and blood-shot eyes. That’s right, I was completely crushed by a Greek tragedy.
Holy What’s excruciatingly incisive and nuanced production wrenches this classical play from its historical resting place and plants it firmly in the modern canon. What a way to start the new year.