Ride – book, music & lyrics – Freya Catrin Smith & Jack Williams. Charing Cross Theatre, the Arches, Villiers Street, London to 17 September 2022. 3***. William Russell.

This two hander musical tells the story of con-woman Annie Cohen Kopchovsky, a Latvian Jewess immigrant and mother of three, who cycled round the world in 1895, the first woman ever to do so. It is a fascinating tale – it may have been for a bet, it may have been to secure a job on a newspaper – she did, one coming back, have a career as a journalist, but Annie spun tales and the truth seems impossible to discover. In time she vanished into obscurity dying in 1947. A hit at the 2020 Vault Festival it now gets a spirited production directed by Sarah Meadows and energetic and exhausting performances from Liv Andrusier as Annie and Yuki Sutton as Martha, a hapless secretary conned by Annie into helping her when she is trying to get a newspaper to back her, who plays everyone else. Annie took her name of Londonderry from one of her sponsors, Kopchovsky not being in 1890s America a name to catch the attention of the great American public. There is a handsome set – the office in which the interview takes place – which opens out in interesting ways and the band under Sam Young belts out the noisy and undistiguished score with enthusiasm. But there isn’t a melody in earshot and while Andrusier and Sutton can sing they are afflicted by the current fashion for those who would be musical stars of shouting the climaxes to their songs. Two women screaming at the tops of their voices rapidly becomes unpleasant – and pointless. It makes no dramatic sense. Since they are products of the royal Academy of Music and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland this is clearly how they have been taught to do it but they are lessons to unlearn.

Annie the Bloomer girl is undeniably a fascinating subject but it needs more than a female double act doing lots of shouting to do her justice. The press night audience packed with chums gave them a deserved standing ovation – they had worked very hard indeed for the 90 minutes the show had lasted – but whether it was for the show itself is another matter. The score is pedestrian, the book confused and confusing, although to be fair Annie is partly responsible for that. On all this I am out on a limb it would seem but happy to perch there. There is not a memorable melody in earshot but a great deal of noise meaning not very much. Just what set this mother of three on her trip – such round the world jaunts were fashionable at the time – remains a mystery at the end of a relatively short but very long evening the highlight of which came when Annie finally got on a bicycle that moved – the others were all firmly fixed on stands – and rode it straight at the audience. Luckily it had brakes.

Annie: Liv Andrusier.

Martha etc: Yuki Sutton.

Director: Sarah Meadows.

Set & Costumes Designer: Amy Jane Cook.

Movement Director & Choreographer: Natasha Harrison.

Orchestrator: Macy Schmidt.

Musical Director: Sam Young.

Lighting Designer: James Platt.

Sound Designer: Andrew Johnson.

Illusion Designer: John Bulleid.

Production photography: Danny Kaan

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