New musical Ride might just be one of the best shows I’ve seen this year, don’t miss it at the Charing Cross Theatre until 17th September
“Suffice to say you’re in safe hands with me”
There’s a real thrill in feeling like you’re in the presence of theatrical magic and with Freya Catrin Smith and Jack Williams’ new musical Ride, it really feels like the start of something special. I’ve been a fan of their work as Bottle Cap Theatre for a little while now as they’ve brought shows like The Limit and an early version of Ride to the VAULT Festival but with this world premiere of the fully-fledged Ride, there’s the distinct sense that this is them staking their place at the forefront of new British musical theatre writing.
Nominally, the show is about Annie Londonderry, whose not-inconsiderable claim to fame is that she became the first woman to cycle around the world in 1895. But rather than a globe-trotting 80 Days-redux, Ride is about something multi-layered and ultimately much more profound. It looks at the enormous challenge of trying to shape your own identity in the face of huge societal pressure, in terms of gender and ethnicity and in an early age of celebrity, it also questions the motivations behind the pursuit of fame.
It is an entertaining story but it is also enthrallingly told. Smith and Williams have Annie pitching her story to a group of journalists and to help out, she ropes in secretary (and fan) Martha and so as they recount tales of derring-do, there’s a running thread of commentary on the personal cost of what she achieved. And somehow, set to a suite of tautly written and highly melodic songs (with sparky musical direction from Sam Young), Ride becomes a highly engaging journey for both women – and for all of us – as it locates an affecting emotional truth.
Sarah Meadow’s production fits so neatly into the Charing Cross Theatre end on, Amy Jane Cook’s handsome picture-box design full of little surprises. And in Liv Andrusier (Annie) and Yuki Sutton (Martha), it has two bright and brilliant performances at its heart, harmonising like a dream and both so effective in their work as Annie does battle with customs officials, f*ckbois, heck the whole patriarchy… I should also mention the excellence of Amy Parker (Alternate Annie / Cover Martha – I saw her Martha in preview too). We may only be two-thirds through 2022 but it is hard to imagine we’re going to get another new musical as heart-soaringly good as Ride this year.