Cycling around the world is no mean feat. And neither is putting together a show like Ride.
Photo by Danny Kaan
The new musical by Freya Catrin Smith and Jack Williams tells the remarkable story of Annie Cohen Kopchovsky (better known as Annie Londonderry) who became the first woman to cycle around the world.
We open with Londonderry - ballsy with a Boston accent - pitching herself as a new columnist to a newspaper panel full of men. Her patter fading, she enlists the help of the paper’s note-taker, and a fan, to tell her story.
Under Sarah Meadows’ simply sublime direction, the little-known mid 1890s adventure unfolds in this two-hander.
At its heart is Liv Andrusier as the complicated but smart Londonderry and Katy Ellis as shy dreamer Martha Smith. Forget the Tour de France, the duo gives a tour de force masterclass in storytelling.
They bolt around a small but magical set (designed lovingly by Amy Jane Cook) and excitedly unravel Londonderry’s life and career. With all the liberation of children performing in a living room, they leap and twirl (props to movement director Natasha Harrison) unleashing the dreams of women across the globe and singing on their behalf.
Largely the romp plays out in an office with dark wooden furniture; shelves lined with books and files, a deep green leather chair, and a writer’s desk. It’s a treasure trove as train seats appear from secret doors to accompany a chapter when Londonderry was robbed by bandits before the whole thing opens out to unveil a pair of bikes and a projection (by Matt Powell) of French mountains to peruse.
It’s a playful production that delights with fairground wonders and slight-of-hand movement. Water turns to deep red wine in glasses, books become steps, and college diplomas fly as we unpick the truth from the reality from our unreliable narrator.
Under Londonderry’s spell, Ellis, as Smith, also takes on the role of the characters met along the way; a dissatisfied French customs officer, an older love interest who seemingly offers the world.
Catrin Smith’s script is an absolute playground to explore, and Andrusier and Ellis make every story as believable as they were to our heroine; a lonely young woman determined to be more without already realising that she is.
The two share a relationship that cannot be learned, sharing physically and emotionally demanding roles that rely on trust. This is particularly true in the latter part of the performance as the mask slips and we see Annie Cohen Kopchovsky as a grieving Jewish immigrant.
The set bathes in sepia-soaked lighting evoking nostalgia in the make-believe. Jamie Platt’s lighting design is playful – using side lamps for lightbulb moments and teaming with Andrew Johnson for a beautiful marriage with the lovely sounds of an outdoor adventure.
The songs are bright and sound of optimism. Sam Young’s small but perfectly formed band blast through pocket rocket show tunes that draw influence from across the continent.
Just like riding a bike, once you see Ride you’ll never forget it.
Ride plays at Curve before heading to London.