Stuart King

Review: RIDE at Charing Cross Theatre

Annie Londonderry may not be a familiar name nowadays, but back in the burgeoning days of celebrity culture — 1895 to be precise — she was something of a superstar, having done the unthinkable by circumnavigating the globe, on a bicycle!

Ride - a New Musical - Liv Andrusier - Photographer Danny KaanLiv Andrusier in RIDE at Charing Cross Theatre - Photographer Danny Kaan

By that time, the contraptions had been around in one form or another for many decades, but interest exploded on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1890s with the New York Times gushing of the “…splendid extension of personal power and freedom…” which they afforded, likening them to enabling a rider to be “…almost possessed of wings”.

RIDE a new musical which is being taken for a limited spin at Charing Cross Theatre, details Annie’s efforts on her return, to tell the story of her global escapade. The pioneering spirit which set her forth on the journey, isn’t about to be subdued simply because she is a Jewish Latvian immigrant woman with a family living in poverty in a Boston tenement, so when she encounters resistance from the all-male newspaper editors of the day, she doubles-down on her sass and enlists the help of an initially reticent Martha, (an on-hand note taker at the offices) as her co-storyteller as she adventures across France and beyond. But did the Phileas Fogg-style circumnavigation really materialise due to a wager, and what is true and what was retrospectively conjured to flesh-out and entertain the adventure-hungry readership of the day?

In Freya Catrin Smith and Jack Williams’ musical, we are left in no doubt about the imbalance of power between men and women, and the realities of being poor in the land of the free, where everyone is created equal and all dreams can theoretically come true.

Liv Andrusier’s Annie is a diminutive, fast-talking, charming-yet-irascible, bag of confidence and self-doubt with an extraordinary voice. Imagine moulding Kristin Chenoweth with Barbra Streisand at her kookiest and you’ll get the idea. Adding support in various guises is Yuki Sutton as Martha, who gradually warms to her role of playing every other role (of which there are many).

The musical numbers are witty and enjoyable and arrive at a jaunty lick (thanks to Sam Young’s guiding fingertips) with notable numbers “Ride”, “On Board” and “Miles Away From Boston”. Pace and pathos vie for attention in Sarah Meadows’ direction and Amy Jane Cook has thrown in some playful surprises in her design of the small stage set and costumes.

RIDE may just prove to be one of those shows which (with a little fleshing and tightening in the right places) has sufficient substance and will go on to have a life way beyond this extremely promising small-scale outing.

Ride - a New Musical - Liv Andrusier and Yuki Sutton  - Photographer Danny KaanLiv Andrusier and Yuki Sutton in RIDE at Charing Cross Theatre - Photographer Danny Kaan