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Ride | Southwark Playhouse Elephant

An extraordinarily powerful statement on self confidence, initially seeming a fun story, Ride tells the story of Annie Londonderry (Liv Andrusier) accepting a wager, daring her to cycle around the world in 15 months. The plot develops into a focus on the core struggles Annie faces when she unveils her gut-wrenching backstory.

Making superb use of the intimate theatre space offered at Southwark Playhouse Elephant, Andrusier often makes direct eye contact with audience members and absorbs the applause with pride after her opening numbers - ‘The World’s Greatest Story’ and ‘Ride.’ Not only does this aid engagement, but it also works well in the theme of the plot. The musical takes place as Annie is pitching for a column in the New York World, with the audience regularly being addressed as ‘gentlemen.’ Annie wants her story to sound enticing to the men she’s pitching to, but also exciting to the audience. Edging on breaking the fourth wall throughout, but not quite as the audience are only acknowledged within the context of the story.

Incredibly charming whilst showcasing both her brilliant mind and her several flaws, Andrusier’s portrayal of Annie Londonderry was spectacularly compelling. Passion radiates from Annie’s fascinating journey and Andrusier’s interpretation has captured the passion of the slightly eccentric character. I was particularly amused by the random extroverted outbursts from Annie and also later Martha (Katy Ellis).

Martha multi-roled in order to facilitate the retelling of Annie’s intriguing journey. Depicting such ingeniously designed characters who all possessed elements of Martha’s true self. The blur between Martha herself and the imitations of the people Annie encounters on her travels was spectacularly considered. I was cleverly left wondering where the line between storytelling, real friendship, and perhaps love was. This also highlighted how you can find comfort in and relate to many people you may face in your life. Each character was instantly likeable. Achieving this for one individual can sometimes be a challenge but direction from Sarah Meadows can be especially commended for successfully doing this with every person Annie meets.

Furthermore, I love how the journey Annie experiences with her bicycle parallels the journey that her friendship with Martha goes on. Highs and lows, comical quirks and serious challenges, Annie and Martha seem to have a real connection.

Aiding the pacing throughout, the melodies and sound was complimentary to the story rather than overpowering. Gorgeous music and lyrics from Freya Catrin Smith and Jack Williams, with musical direction by Sam Young. The lighting design by Jamie Platt was beautifully satisfying. From the on beat flickers of the lights to the sound of the bicycle bells, to the way that the route lit up on the map (and became bolder as Annie’s confidence in it increased), I was very impressed. Also, the smooth shifts in lighting as the women crept in and out of roleplay is notable.

Unexpected set transitions, designed by Amy Jane Cook, were extremely pleasing. Shocking me with the many ways the stage space could expand, especially with how seamless and simple the shifts were. However, I did question the quality of the blurred background projection (Matt Powell), mainly in the Egypt scene. Although not distracting, it was noteworthy as it contrasted with the otherwise incredible script and score.

‘Everybody Loves a Lie’ was a spectacle to watch which featured more movement choreography (Natasha Harrison). However, it did seem to become slightly repetitive which was exasperated by the cyclical chorus choreography. It would have been nice to change it up or make minor adjustments to show the development of the characters through the song. I adore when tap is included in a musical, but the fake tapping (produced by the sound team) was somewhat disappointing as it was obvious it was not the real deal. I’d rather tap not be incorporated if there isn’t feasible scope to use actual tap shoes.

Miles Away From Boston’ blew me away. Extremely gripping, pulling my heart strings, and encouraging me to yearn for a happy ending for all involved. The vocals were astounding and I hung on every word. Yet the song that undoubtedly stood out and is what solidified how wowed I would be by this production is ‘Stranger’. Seriously emotional, my heart was breaking and I couldn’t take my eyes or ears away from Andrusier’s stunning performance.

A specific scene that has left a profound effect on me is where Annie confronts Fred Rose on the different perspectives on gender expectations. The fiery feminist shift after a loving encounter was impactful and has stuck with me. I resonated with Annie in this moment and appreciated her bold and powerful stance. It takes a lot of self belief and confidence to unapologetically challenge society’s constructs. What further supported this scene was the strong sound of heartbeats. I interpret this as speaking from the heart and the intensity of Annie’s actions was coming from her core.

This glorious musical can and will steal everyone’s heart. I do not hesitate to recommend this wonderful production which displays messages that rung true in 1894 and still do today! Ride plays at the Southwark Playhouse Elephant until the 12th August. For more tickets and information, you can follow the link here.


AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | reviewed by Carly | photography by Danny Kaan


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