I am a gal who loves to laugh: tittering, belly-laughing, a delayed chuckle, witty banter and snort your-beer-out-of-your-nose hilarious. Out There On Fried Meat Ridge Rd. at the Trafalgar Studios allowed me to indulge in all of my favourite kinds of laughter.
The show is the brain child of Playwright Keith Stevenson, a proud native of West Virginia and nominee for the 2012 Ovation Award for Playwrighting for An Original Play. The shows first staged reading was at Pacific Resident Theatre Writers Group in December 2011, and after over five years, two sequels, and a run at The White Bear Theatre in Kennington earlier this year, this brilliant show has landed on London’s West End – and what a treat it is.
The plot is ingeniously simple; five characters partake in a series of bizarre interactions within the walls of a dirty motel room in West Virginia. The pacey dialogue, witty script and unexpected one-liners really capture the audience’s attention throughout. The humorous dialogue toes the line between many different styles; physical comedy, dark humour and clever extended metaphors to name a few. All of these styles have the ability to make the audience cry with laughter, then hit them a moment later with a really genuine reflection about our humanity before even having time to wipe away the tears. I’d love to see more of Stevenson’s work in the future and feel he really is one to watch.
The direction too is superb, with each of the play’s bizarre characters going on their own personal journey as their chaotic lives collide. This sense of journey is a real credit to director Harry Burton, as action is set in real-time and only takes place over 70 minutes during an evening at the named Fried Meat Ridge Rd (and FYI – it’s a real place!). The cast are an exceptional ensemble who create a fascinating neighbourly chemistry that you really can’t take your eyes off. Playwright Stevenson also plays the central character JD, who lives and breathes the philosophy of ‘love thy neighbour’ and is a wonderful combination of slightly deranged and utterly selfless. He introduces each character to one another and is the centre point of the show. Mitch (Robert Moloney) is a completely loveable and frustrating potential roommate for JD, whilst next door neighbours Marlene (Melanie Gray) and Tommy (Alex Ferns) provide the play’s explosive passion within their love/hate relationship. Flip (Michael Wade) is the owner of the motel, reflecting the small town attitudes with his controversial philosophy. As well as their entertainment value, the characters are all genuine souls who are flawed and vulnerable – Stevenson has a real gift of creating characters that are fascinatingly grotesque whilst being extremely likeable.
Trafalgar Studios provided a great venue for the action which set designer Simon Scullion used to full effect. The furniture in the room is basic and grotty with various odds and ends littering the stage. The overall aesthetic was shabby and lazy in the best possible way – extenuated by the soft country music playing in the background as the audience entered, totally gearing up the audience for the style of the play. Basic lighting and classic country decor furnish the wooden panelling of the motel walls, which extend along the wall into the audience’s seating banks. This was very effective as I too felt like I was in the cramped room with the actors and was totally invested in the action.
I cannot recommend Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Rd. highly enough. In my opinion it is without a doubt one of the most unique, intelligent and witty shows playing on the West End at the moment. The characters’ energy completely sucks you into the plot and I thoroughly enjoyed leaving my own metropolitan troubles behind to succumb to the mad-cap bubble of motel life. I’d quite happily don my mountain gear and move into Fried Meat Ridge Road in a heartbeat.
Reviewed by Lisa MacGregor
Photo: Gavin Watson
Out There On Fried Meat Ridge Rd. plays at Trafalgar Studios until 3 June 2017.