It’s June of 1894 and in Boston, a Jewish Latvian immigrant who goes by the name of Annie Londonderry has set off on a mission to become the first woman to cycle around the world, in no less than fifteen months. In September 1895 she arrives at the finish line with two weeks to spare. During this time she has generated a media frenzy, skillfully marketing both herself and her story to the masses, and yet little was really known about her. RIDE – A New Musical at Charing Cross Theatre explores who the real Annie might have been and the struggles she will have faced as a pioneering woman at the time. Directed by Sarah Meadows, this musical promises both tears, laughter and an important history lesson.
We find ourselves in the offices of the New York World. Annie (Liv Andrusier), having completed her trip, is now pitching herself to a group of faceless men in order to secure a column in the newspaper. She enlists the help of Martha (Yuki Sutton), a lowly secretary at the paper, to help tell her story. The pair form an instant connection, but this new friendship begins to splinter as it is revealed that Annie is an unreliable narrator. Strong emotions boil beneath Annie’s cheerful veneer as she spins her yarn, which threatens to undo Martha’s naïve adoration and endangers her chance at getting the job.
RIDE – A New Musical, while a double act, packs a massive punch. Andrusier and Sutton, as Annie and Martha respectively, slip into various roles from blustering gentlemen making an improbable wager to privileged travel companions and more in order to illustrate Annie’s travels. Out of all these characters, the notable crowd pleaser was the dry French customs official, played adeptly by Sutton who has a gift for comedic timing.
However, as a duo, Andrusier and Sutton find an almost perfect balance, with neither one outshining the other despite the showiness of Annie’s personality. Perhaps Andrusier is the stronger of the two vocally but the difference is minimal and only highlights the contrast between shy Martha and vibrant Annie. Certainly, their rendition of the musical numbers was a treat to listen to. Be warned though, you’ll be desperately searching for the soundtrack as you leave the theatre. The talent of this acting duo was only enhanced by a skillfully designed set, courtesy of Amy Jane Cook.
In 1896 American civil rights leader, Susan B Anthony wrote “I think [the bicycle] has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world.” Certainly, Annie’s story is that of an extraordinary woman who refused to stick to the roles that society placed upon her. She was suspected to be queer, and certainly her character in RIDE – A New Musical was very queer-coded.
As a Jewish immigrant, she faced the huge amount of anti-Semitism that was rife in America at the time, which is perhaps partly why she changed her last name from Cohen Kopchovsky to Londonderry. She was also a mother who left her children behind to pursue her dreams, challenging the expectations which are still forced on women to this day. Annie shows us that women are complex and they do not have to be considered ‘nice’ to be extraordinary. This is an amazing piece of theatre and a must-watch for everyone.