In 1894, Annie Londonderry set off on a solo circumnavigation of the world by bike. That her name and this radical accomplishment is almost entirely unknown is as big a mystery as is the real story of her travels. She was born in Latvia, emigrated to the US as a child and suffered the loss of her parents, leaving her at just 16 to care for her younger siblings. She married in an attempt to achieve financial stability and had three children. But it seems it was the death of her younger brother that was the seminal moment that propelled her towards her pioneering ride around the world. There’s talk of a wager, adventures with the myriad people she meets along the way, relationships developed and abandoned. On her triumphant return to the US in 1895, following an initial wave of media attention, Annie decides to pitch her remarkable story to the newspapers, but just how much of a “story” is it? Several times she says that reality is just what you make it and is not always the same as the truth. This show asks whether she is running from her past of poverty and loss by reinventing herself – from Jewish Latvian immigrant Annie Cohen from a desperately poor Boston tenement to become a pioneering and feisty adventurer and story-telling columnist trying to change perceptions of women.
Director Sarah Meadows brings Annie’s intriguing history to vibrant life through Freya Catrin Smith and Jack Williams’ Ride. The songs are well-written in a timeless musical theatre style and, while not hummable earworms, are well placed within the narrative, advancing the storyline and keeping up the momentum of the tale as Annie makes her pitch to be a writer for a newspaper. And in Liv Andrusier, Meadows has the perfect multi-talented performer to present the dynamic, layered, flawed, enigmatic Annie. Andrusier has a voice of great range and power coupled with a skilled comic timing that is perfect for this role. Yuki Sutton, as the initially timid clerk, Martha, whose life is upended after she meets Annie, does significantly more than hold her own with a similarly powerful voice and talent. Andrusier and Sutton’s duets produce some of the highlights of the production. They are backed by an excellent three-piece band, led by Musical Director Sam Young. The only negative is that the sound is occasionally wincingly loud in the relatively small auditorium.
Amy Jane Cook’s simple set of the wood-pannelled office of the newspaper owners becomes deceptively and cleverly expansive as Annie cycles off.
This is a heart-warming story that leaves the audience wanting to know more about the woman who achieved such a phenomenal feat but ended up as barely a footnote in history. The writers are to be applauded for bringing Annie’s remarkable life story to the fore once again.
Ride is at the Charing Cross Theatre until 17th September. Tickets are on sale from https://charingcrosstheatre.co.uk/theatre/ride
Reviewer: Carole Gordon
Reviewed: 31st August 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★