Director: Sarah Meadows
Music, Book & Lyrics: Freya Catrin Smith and Jack Williams
One of the national papers this week had a column comparing what previous and current generations understand by someone being called a “hustler”. Back in the day, it was synonymous with a con artist, a grifter, someone bending the truth to gain something from a mark (whether that’s cash, goods, access). Today, we have “hustler culture” – energetic entrepreneurialism where opportunities are spotted and seized resulting in a portfolio career.
Annie Londonderry seems to have been a mix of the two. A hustle culture pioneer a century before it became a thing. And someone who was loose with the truth when it meant her getting ahead. This 90 minute musical celebrates Annie’s astonishing story – someone who cycled around the world at a time when women in her position (poor, immigrant young mother in an arranged marriage) would barely have been expected to leave sight of home for more than a few hours. It’s packed, dense with detail and discovery, thrilling songs, tough emotions and smart (though hardly novel) commentary.
Her story’s told as part of her pitch to a newspaper about why she’d make a great star columnist for them. Annie (Liv Andrusier) recounts her circumnavigatory tale with the help of a passing secretary (played by Yuki Sutton) who stands in for the people she meets along the way. The two portray Annie making friends, falling in love, thinking quickly and bravely, and falling apart when she remembers the sacrifice she had to make and children she left behind to go on her trip. It’s joyful at times, and tortured at others.
Mixed in with all this narrative about Annie are some pointed comments that the American Dream is as illusionary then as it is now. Hard work counts for little when there’s an evident privilege gap.
As the hero, Andrusier is mesmerising to watch. She’s captivating on stage, roaming around with Annie’s own self-assurance and with perfect crystalline vocals. Alongside Sutton, she blasts through high-energy, high-drama musical numbers like The Wager with brio, before taking a solo, heartbreaking turn for the folk-sounding Schlof Mayn Kind where she turns from victorious cyclist to lonely, guilty mother. Thankfully too, the punchy Bostonian accent she starts out with is the one she sticks with throughout, definitely not always the case with live performances and complex vowels. As the lively Andrusier’s foil, Sutton turns in a complex performance – her main character Martha (the secretary)developing in a nice arc over time while portraying the other inhabitants of Annie’s journey from French customs official Celine to a Harvard lecturer (both of whom Annie seems to fall in love with) to an oil baron.
It’s all framed by Amy Jane Cook’s fantastic stage. The newspaper office evolves to be a real window to Annie’s world, becoming a train carriage, a customs office, a Middle Eastern field. It’s backed by bright, zesty music from musical director Sam Young (also playing keyboard live alongside Frankie South on guitar and percussionist Alex Maxted).
We’re left with an interesting depth of feeling regarding Annie. It’s difficult to reconcile her abandoning her family with the charismatic, spunky character she presents. She’s selfish, mean, but immensely attractive. Her achievements are incredible. A round the world trip is difficult today, let alone as a poverty stricken immigrant in 1894 when all journeys were made based on coal and muscle. Ride is a smart, entertaining way to recognise not only the achievement, but the flawed character herself. And, crucially, some of the songs are absolutely smashing.
Runs until 17 September 2022