Tuesday 11 July 2023



Curve, Leicester

10th July, 2023

10,000 miles away from Boston, but I’m home

Freya Catrin Smith and Jack Williams’ new musical about Annie Londonderry, the first woman to ever cycle around the world, first performed pre-lockdown, has gained a cult popularity through word-of-mouth and now embarks on a new outing at Curve, before playing the Southwark Playhouse Elephant. Some gutsy performances and playfully expansive narrative bolster this neat little chamber musical.

It’s 1895 and Annie Londonderry (Liv Andrusier) has returned to America, confident following her victorious venture around the world. The set up has Annie pitching her story, and perhaps more importantly, herself, to an offstage group of editors for a newspaper publication. She is aided in her narration by the admiring but reserved secretary, Martha (Katy Ellis), who takes on a miscellany of roles with increasing assuredness, ranging from a French Border Control worker, to an Oxford Don, a lonely Harvard Academic, and even Annie herself.

The show’s title song is a hymn to the new freedoms brought by the bicycle. Everyday people were afforded the prospect of travel, of possibility, of female liberation, and, for Annie, an escape from painful memories at home: “a different state of mind… take a road that has no end”. Taking up a wager that could net her an unprecedented $10,000, Annie has a wobbly start to her mission and much publicity from the doubting US press. The zippy songs fling facts at us in quick succession, eg. once a door-to-door advertisement seller, Annie becomes sponsored by “every goddam business in the USA” from funeral directors to rat poison in a bid to raise $5,000 during her trek as part of the wager. We subsequently rattle through country after country at whirlwind speed, with months of the journey condensed into short monologues or songs - an amusing section of ‘Out Of Time’ speeds through Annie’s increasing discontent travelling through Asia; ‘I get no joy from Hanoi!’.

Just as Annie educates her international audiences on the road, Smith and Williams present a history lesson peppered with many fanciful moments. The audience is well aware that Annie is fond of bending the truth – as showcased in the toe-tapping ‘Everybody Loves a Lie’ - and she and Martha even have a brief debate about what constitutes ‘reality’ and ‘truth’. While I won’t spoil any of the narrative twists resulting from this fact-fudging, I enjoyed the way the creative team use this theme to play with the structure of the piece. Using Martha to embody the various characters Annie meets is a great way of playing on the reality vs pretence of theatrical and storytelling traditions. Just as we’re never quite sure about Annie’s stories, we’re never quite sure where the line lies between Martha and the character she is playing.

Amy Jane Cook’s design deftly encapsulates the piece, the old-timey editor’s office evokes a very specific time and place which later unfolds into wide, dreamy expanses of foreign lands, the perfect stage upon which Annie’s recollections and fantasies play out. The condensed nature of the musical means that RIDE lives or dies on its central performances, and thankfully here both are exceptional. Andrusier gives a star-making performance as Annie; initially full of bravado and broad Bostonian sass, her mask gradually slips and the character becomes more and more unsure of herself. While in an arguably less showy role, Ellis more than holds her own against Andrusier, instilling Martha with a bumbling likability that is occasionally lacking in our protagonist. The two actors have great chemistry, highlighted in the charming love song ‘Miles Away From Boston’, and effortlessly captivate the audience for the solid 90-minute run time.

Smith, Williams and director, Sarah Meadows, have triumphed in creating an endearing original musical which focuses on issues of feminism, class, wealth and race without ever feeling preachy. Similarly, when isolated, the story has the potential to run the risk of being merely ‘quaint’, however, the strength of the central character, the knowingly playful structure and some top-notch performances make this a memorable show thanks to its inherently theatrical take on a neglected yet unforgettable feminist icon.


RIDE plays at Curve, Leicester until 15th July before playing at Southwark Playhouse Elephant from 19th July to 12th August. For more information, please visit https://www.curveonline.co.uk/whats-on/shows/ride/

Liv Andrusier in RIDE
Credit: Danny Kaan