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Reviewed: Ride - A New Musical at Curve

The true story of the first women to cycle around the world is at Curve until this Saturday.

Liv Andrusier as Annie Londonderry. Photo by Danny Kaan.
Liv Andrusier as Annie Londonderry. Photo by Danny Kaan.

It's always fun to get invited to a brand new show, as you get the excitement of being amongst the first to see it.

Ride is a new musical - that began with a brief London-run last year - and is now being co-produced by Deus Ex Machina Productions and Curve.

I knew very little about this production going in. It tells the "true" story of Annie Londonderry, the first woman to cycle around the world.

It's a premise that implies grand scope - an opportunity for theatrical magic to take us on a tour around the world.

Therefore, I was quite surprised to discover that this show features a cast of two, and largely takes place in the office of an American newspaper, where Annie is using her fame to apply for a job as a regular columnist. The result is that it occasionally feels like an Edinburgh Festival show with a good budget.

Liv Andrusier is phenomenal in the role of Annie. Full of gumption and brassiness, unafraid to make her story work for her, and unashamed to embellish where necessary. Andrusier's vocals are magnificent, with every song exquisitely performed.

She is counterbalanced by the (initially) shy Martha - her assistant at the newspaper - played by Katy Ellis. While Ellis enters the stage as Martha, as the character gets wrapped up in Annie's myth-building, she's required to multi-role, playing all the characters Annie encountered on her journey.

The chemistry between the two leads is lovely, no matter which character combination they're playing. There's no doubt that Andrusier and Ellis are more than capable of holding the stage for the full 90 minutes.

I can't ignore the fact that this show has a narrative problem for me. For the first 45 minutes, Annie is pitching herself to an unseen panel of men (located somewhere within the audience) who own the newspaper, and telling her story. But that's the issue - she is telling the story, not showing it. I found it difficult to engage with her tale during this phase of the show.

If there was a way to present her adventure in the present tense – showing the formation of the bet that sends Annie on her way rather than having it described in the past tense – it would make for a more dynamic presentation.

I didn't love the device of the unseen male authority figures. In a show about women's liberation and achievement, it felt like an unnecessary anchor keeping Annie from reaching her full potential.

Also – and this is a petty criticism – but aside from a very brief freeze frame at the beginning, there's no bike on stage for the first 45 minutes. That feels like a fairly essential prop, considering the subject matter.

Yet, once that 45 minute mark is passed, there's a complete switch of narrative styles, and we're off on the adventure with Annie, boarding a train, cycling through the Middle East, and then suddenly back in her home tenement in Boston, Massachusetts.

Annie dines with the captain on the ship that takes her across the Atlantic.
Annie dines with the captain on the ship that takes her across the Atlantic. Photo by Danny Kaan.

For this stretch, the musical burst into life for me. It felt like I was seeing the world with Annie, living her experience alongside her.

It's a shame we spend so much time establishing Annie and Martha's characters, and don't get to this sooner. Especially when the adventure is cut short at the end, with the final three countries and race-to-the-finish-line rushed through, all dismissed in one line of a dialogue.

The show as it exists is very well staged. Director Sarah Meadows makes good use of limited space, with furniture serving multiple purposes, costume changes revealed at key moments, and cleverly-used lighting to indicate when we're in the office, and when we're in Annie's memory.

Musically, each song is beautiful, but none of them really stood out. Maybe this is the effect of the small cast - everything contributes to an overall mood, but there's no iconic number that you can hang the show's identity on.

The title song "Ride" probably comes closest, and it does a wonderful job of establishing Andrusier's vocal credentials... but I couldn't hum the tune to you as I write this 15 hours later.

This show is about female liberation, adventure, and the power of brand-marketing. Annie Londonderry is an idea. An escape. A heroic, inspirational concept. Scratch beneath the surface, and you realise it's a front for a thoroughly unhappy woman, who did what she had to do for a better life.

Ultimately, that's mirrored in the musical as a whole. A heroic, inspirational concept, but it only scratches the surface. This is not by any means a bad show, but there's more to explore in this character and story, and if this show is to be expanded (currently 90 minutes without an interval), I'd love to see more of the adventure – and more of Annie's embellishments – explored.


Ride - A New Musical is playing at Curve until Saturday, July 15.


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