After wowing critics and audiences alike in a previous outing at Charing Cross Theatre, the ambitious musical Ride returns for a new run at Southwark Playhouse Elephant under the direction of Sarah Meadows.
Freya Catrin Smith and Jack Williams’ musical tells the true-life story of Annie Londonderry, who in 1894 cycled around the world solo. An impressive feat and a fascinating story, though the way it’s told here is from the viewpoint of an unreliable narrator.
Pitching to the gentlemen of the New York World for a job as a columnist, our Annie enlists the help of a secretary named Martha to help recount the tale of her round the world adventure.
In the later stages of Ride, we learn more about Annie’s background; growing up Jewish in a very anti-Semitic Boston, losing both her parents and a brother, and leaving her children behind to embark on this epic journey. It helps elicit some empathy with the character, but it potentially comes too late as we’ve already seen much of the bullish, aggressive, and at times, downright mean version of Annie.
Amy Jane Cook’s intricate set gives us both the intimidating confines of the newspaper office, and the wider expanse of the outside world that Annie has seen first hand. It serves the story well, because for Annie it is all about the story, aspects of reality come a distant second, from the woman who claims to be a doctor, a lawyer and Harvard graduate.
The songs are all very enjoyable, particularly the title number and ‘By My Side’. Performed by a small band led brilliantly by Sam Young, they propel the story forward, each song works standalone or as part of Annie’s extraordinary tale. Liv Andrusier demonstrates a marvellous vocal ability, delighting the audience no end, and when Andrusier sings with Katy Ellis as Martha, the harmonies are just dreamy. The fact that just two people carry this entire musical, often taking on multiple roles, is a testament to just how strong the concept is.
Ride has a fantastic story that anyone can enjoy, coupled with catchy and soaring songs, it makes for a delightful night of musical theatre. While it works perfectly well as a one-act musical, audiences might be wondering if expanding it out might allow us more of a chance to understand Annie, her achievements, and her obvious heartache.
Ride is at Southwark Playhouse Elephant until 12th August 2023.