Ride, VAULT Festival

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By Dora Bodrogi

Hop on the saddle for this ride around the world with Annie Londonderry, a trailblazer on two wheels. Bottle Cap Theatre give us an hour of superb musical theatre detailing the journey of this overlooked pioneer.

We meet Annie in the offices of the New York World where she’s pitching the story of her 15-month trip cycling around the world. It’s the year 1895, when the mere thought of women on bicycles raises worries about propriety. However, Annie’s done it! With the help of Martha, her fretful new secretary, she tells us all about the adventure of a lifetime that gave her the freedom she craved and a handsome wager’s reward.

However, soon enough, we learn that the ride wasn’t always such smooth sailing. She nearly throws in the towel after the first leg. She ditches her heavy bike and restricting corset to a lighter Sterling and bloomers by the time she reaches Chicago. She runs into customs delays in France and armed robbers on a train in Egypt. Worse than anything on the road ahead, she is weighed down by her past. “Annie Londonderry” is fierce, famous, and fabulous – but Annie Cohen Kopchovsky, the Latvian Jewish immigrant who was stuck raising her two siblings and her own three children at just 23, is not. She is flawed: she exaggerates to journalists around the world. Factuality comes second to a good story, the wilder the better. And was there a wager at all?

Amy Parker shines brightly as the star of the story in this production. Her range, her voice, and her presence as the trailblazing Annie Londonderry are ready to fill an auditorium of a thousand-strong audience – at least. Her comedic brilliance is also allowed its moments in the spotlight from the start, particularly during “The Wager” when she acts out her commissioners with the help of a makeshift coat hanger prop. Through highs and lows, she has a voice befitting Annie, who was herself larger than life. Her prowess is infectious. Amelia Gabriel’s performance as Martha is a joy to watch, as she gives us her own journey from frightened secretary to a confident new woman and companion that helps Annie get back on her feet.

Freya Smith and Jack Williams’ musical is clearly fit for a stage larger than a studio theatre. It definitely deserves a future life – the soundtrack hits all the right nerves, the story is incredible and inspiring, and the narrative is well-constructed. Could Annie Londonderry be the next West End sensation? Having seen this outstanding show, I’d wager on her in a heartbeat.

Ride runs through 8 March.

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