Ride at Southwark Playhouse
Annie Londonderry is known as the first woman to ever cycle around the world. Her solo trip, undertaken in 1894, provides fertile ground for storytelling, especially since many details of her journey are unknown. Born in Latvia, her family emigrated to America, and by her early 20s, she was married and had three children. The story goes that two gentlemen made a bet regarding whether she could tour the world within 15 months on a bicycle, and she readily took on this unprecedented challenge.
The show begins with the protagonist (played by Liv Andrusier), presenting her tale after the completion of her journey to the editorial board of a newspaper. She persuades a reluctant and shy secretary, Martha (Katy Ellis), to re-enact it with her by playing the various characters she encountered. As the two sing, ride and narrate, a big question begins to form through what they say and what they omit: where does the real story end and the fanciful storytelling begin? And which version should one preserve and spread? These are the most interesting questions the play poses.
The leading duo deliver lively performances and their big voices, the choreographies and the amusing exchanges keep the energy high. The stage is used to good effect in spite of its limited proportions, with the Victorian furniture lending charm and few set devices making the space a little more dynamic. The bike as an object enters the scene relatively late in the play. Considering it’s the central element in the narrative, this choice comes across as odd. The entire production in fact treats Annie’s bike journey as a secondary matter.
One problematic section of the play entails back-to-back scenes in which Annie voices all the different ways in which she is disadvantaged. From gender to ethnic discrimination, to the struggles of being a refugee and then of being a mother, she laments these limitations through angry melodramatic outbursts that detract from the issues themselves. Besides, the Annie shown in this production is a rather unlikable character, so sympathising with her requires extra effort.
The production tries a little too hard to embed current hot topics into Annie’s story. This is especially obvious when she has a go at a male fellow traveller and flags up his “entitlement”. It ends up feeling less like the wondrous adventure it promises to be and much more like a modern-day debate denouncing oppressive forces in superficial and less-than-subtle tones.
Images: Danny Kaan
Ride is at Southwark Playhouse from 19th July until 12th August 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for Ride here: