Review by Daz Gale
Charing Cross Theatre is hosting a world premiere of a new musical that has already garnered excitement and attention around the world. Ride has previously been seen as part of VAULT Festival in 2020 and has since been nominated for multiple awards. It may have had a bit of a long journey to get here but the full production is finally ready to be seen by the public. But will it go down in history?
Ride tells the improbable true story of Annie Londonderry who became the first woman to cycle around the world in 1895. If you are imagining a story which just sees her on her bike for the full 90 minutes, this story is fairly deceptive, carrying with it a lot more weight and depth than you might necessarily expect. In fact, the bicycle riding is fairly limited, only being prominent in one scene.
Instead, the clever narrative structure sees Annie pitching to write a column in the New York World newspaper. Through this pitch, she recounts her story with the help of the poor unsuspecting employee who stumbles in the room in the middle of her pitch to deliver drinks. This narrative leads to a lot of unexpected excitement and versatility in the story, allowing Annie to venture back to the story of her iconic journey and into the present day (Well, still the past but you get the idea) seamlessly.
Jumping in to the saddle of Annie Londonderry is Liv Andrusier who gives a commanding performance as our leading lady. Instantly connecting with the audience by treating them as the men she is pitching to, she is able to create an intimacy to the story that leads to some surprisingly emotional moments. A truly incredible performer with a mind-blowingly sensational singing voice, Liv is completely captivating as Annie, delivering a true masterclass performance.
The only other performer on stage is the unsuspecting Martha who is brilliantly played by Yuki Sutton. Initially shy and reserved, Martha grows as a character as her confidence builds and she takes on all the other roles in Annies stories – one particular highlight sees her hilariously playing a French customs officer. The nuances in Yuki’s acting that shows Marthas growth as a character is a real testament to her acting ability. Together, Yuki and Liv make a formidable double act on that stage.
One of the strongest elements to Ride is the exceptional writing by Freya Catrin Smith and Jack Williams. Full of heart and humour, it forms an immediate connection and is multi-layered, allowing for initial one dimensional characters to reveal themselves gradually and organically, in a great use of character development. The message the show speaks of about change, progression and women doing “the unthinkable” still feels timely and fairly joyous given the recent success England has seen with women in Sport (even though this is an American story – the point still stands). Without giving any of the surprises of the plot away, Ride takes a look at the lies we tell to escape ourselves and the importance of our own identity as Annie eventually reveals the impactful truth behind her own lie.
Freya and Jack are also responsible for the musical numbers which are of an impressively consistent high standard. Opening number ‘The World’s Greatest Story’ sets the bar high but it is the title track that follows which really kicks things off a gear – I believe my jaw hit the floor during the rousing number ‘Ride’ which I put down to a mix of the incredible crafting of the song paired with Livs out of this world vocals. Other highlights include ‘Everybody Loves A Lie’ and the fantastic final number ‘Ride The Moment’. Orchestrated by Macy Schmidt with musical direction from Sam Young, a 3 piece band bring these numbers to life in what is one of the best original scores I have heard for quite some time.
Directed by Sarah Meadows, Ride features fantastic movement and choreography from Natasha Harrison who makes use of the relatively small stage of Charing Cross Theatre. The set design by Amy Jane Cook, who also designed the great costumes, is another highlight of the show. A simple office setting reveals itself to be full of tricks. Its versatility including a satisfying moment where the thole thing opens up, ensuring there is always some new trick in its staging to keep it visually thrilling. Gorgeous lighting from Jamie Platt perfectly complements it, including an inspired touch to look out for in the world map.
I was fairly new to the journey of Ride, having missed it in its previous incarnation. I must admit I wasn’t sure what to expect with this show but it certainly wasn’t this. From start to finish, you are taking on a journey with Annie both emotionally and literally in what is a truly beautiful story full of more depth than your average show. Boasting two characters you can’t help but fall in love with, wonderfully performed by two incredible actresses mixed with the fantastic writing and gorgeous songs have led to Ride being a fairly amazing musical full of surprises. A true rollercoaster of emotions, this musical really is one Hell of a ride, and one you will most definitely enjoy. The future looks bright for this heart-warmingly wonderful show and world domination could be in its sights. Get on your bike and see it at Charing Cross Theatre while you can, as before you know it, it will be off to the next stop on its inevitable world tour.
Ride plays at Charing Cross Theatre until September 17th. Tickets from charingcrosstheatre.co.uk
Photos by Danny Kaan