Book, music and lyrics by Freya Catrin Smith and Jack Williams
DEM Productions
Southwark Playhouse Elephant

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Liv Andrusier and Katy Ellis in Ride Credit: Danny Kaan
Liv Andrusier and Katy Ellis in Ride Credit: Danny Kaan
Liv Andrusier and Katy Ellis in Ride Credit: Danny Kaan
Liv Andrusier and Katy Ellis in Ride Credit: Danny Kaan
Liv Andrusier and Katy Ellis in Ride Credit: Danny Kaan
Liv Andrusier in Ride Credit: Danny Kaan

Hit musical Ride is back in London now at Southwark Playhouse Elephant.

Liv Andrusier, who last year took home an OffWestEnd Award, reprises the role of the show’s heroine, Annie Londonderry, this time with the supremely talented Katy Ellis by her side as Martha Smith.

The indomitable Bostonian Annie Londonderry is in her twenties when fin de siècle women are starting to enter journalism as writers of sensation and we find her pitching for a job as a column writer.

She co-opts the paper’s secretary, Martha, to help tell the story of her success as the first woman to cycle across the world, but as Annie’s escapades emerge, doubts start to form reinforced by the title song. “Leave the past behind you... forget what once defined you,” she sings, and then another tease awaits in the next song “The Wager” in which Annie takes up the chance to win $10,000 when two men bet that a woman couldn’t cycle across four of the world’s continents.

It isn’t just the wheels that spin with this story; Annie is a master of misdirection—even her name is not her own. A former seller of newspaper advertising, to raise money for her ride, she peddles space on her body to sponsors and takes the name Londonderry from one of them, blotting out everything that her real surname exposes about her immigrant Latvian-Jewish heritage.

Writers Freya Catrin Smith and Jack Williams through song and book have created a heroine who is uncompromisingly determined and possessed of sparky, quick wit that pitches between the engagingly comic and the viciously cutting in a flash.

At the receiving end of this push-me-pull-you manoeuvring is Martha, pulled into playing second fiddle along the route of Annie’s trail.

Katy Ellis is delightfully uncertain as this awestruck acolyte who blossoms under Annie’s brutal direction to play various roles, all the while Martha’s charm glowing like a corona, and as her confidence grows and sets, Ellis transforms into a new, assured Martha.

Pity Annie, a crusader for equality, doesn’t help Martha realise her own dreams, but perhaps she was never one to relinquish her self-interest. This is one of only two missed beats, the other occurring when the womance between Annie and Martha seems to flirt bogusly towards something else.

If the irrepressible Annie brings to mind the love-child of relentless self-promoter and hoaxer P T Barnum and Barbara Streisand’s Fanny Brice, it is not to say that there is anything derivative about Liv Andrusier’s performance.

Thoughtfully portrayed, Andrusier’s charismatic Annie is much more than an excess of chutzpah and restless energy. She harnesses a power that charges her mournfulness, whilst her comedy has a mischievous quality that leaves you smiling, wondering if you're being had.

Sarah Meadows directs the show at a cracking pace, with Natasha Harrison’s bouncy choreography filling every inch of the playfully clever set by Amy Jane Cook.

This is one show not to miss. Being taken for a ride hasn’t been this much fun in ages.

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti

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