With Ride at the VAULT Festival, I remain convinced that Bottle Cap Theatre are the future of new musical theatre
“I take a breath to keep me calm
And then it’s on to Vietnam”
At a moment where the inspiration for big new West End musicals can’t seem to look past the cinema screen, Bottle Cap Theatre are here to remind us of the power and potential of fresh new voices in musical theatre writing. They blew me away at last year’s VAULT Festival with The Limit and returning this year with their new piece Ride, moved me more in 10 minutes than anything on Fifth Avenue or by the banks of the Nile.
This, writers Freya Smith and Jack Williams achieve, by once again finding inspiration from unsung sources. The Limit focused on neglected mathematician Sophie Germain and Ride looks to the first woman to cycle around the world – Annie Londonderry – to muse on the cult of celebrity and self-promotion, and ask what might give someone the drive and determination to get in the saddle and smash the patriarchy so.
It emerges as a deeply fascinating story, and one which is told in a cleverly constructed way, concurrently revealing how Londonderry achieved the gargantuan feat and the price she has paid after the fact for doing it. Amy Parker’s gloriously-voiced Annie takes us on quite the ride, from Chicago bike shops to French customs houses to Egyptian train carriages, Smith and Williams’ knack with a confident melody proving a musical delight.
But it is in her interactions with her secretary, Amelia Gabriel’s Martha, in trying to sell her story, in trying to construct a new identity, that the emotional depths of Ride lie, expertly guided by Smith’s direction. Even in just an hour, considered and sensitive thought is given to how misogynistic and anti-Semitic attitudes can shape a person, how what we might call a spiky character can be nothing more an essential survival mechanism.
There’s also something thrilling in the innate musicality of the show too. It might seem obvious for a musical but it isn’t always the case, you don’t always feel that this is best way to be telling the story but here, Williams’ musical direction of his tight four-person band leaves you in no doubt this is how Ride has to be told. And it must be heard, if/when I win the lottery, I want to put these guys in a West End house, until then, get thee to the VAULTs.