There are certain viewpoints that (some) city people, like me, have of people from the country. Some of these views are, frankly, entirely untrue and based on my own ignorance and prejudice. Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road does, at least at first, nothing to counteract them, choosing instead, rather playfully, to magnify them in this 67-minute no-interval power-packed comedy in which more happens than in many shows twice as long as this one.
I saw this play at the Trafalgar Studios, having transferred there from an earlier run at the White Bear Theatre in Kennington, which as someone who used to live there once told me, is ‘one letter away from Kensington’. It seems more at home in this venue, seen by some as being a West End theatre, partly because of its location (nearest Tube and rail: Charing Cross) and partly because it’s operated by the Ambassador Theatre Group. It’s a comedy with a capital C, without a fringe factor – I dare say, put it together with either or even both of the sequels that together make up the ‘Fried Meat Trilogy’, it might even be suitable for the Young Vic or the National Theatre.
As this play stands, set in a motel on Fried Meat Ridge Road, an actual road in Keyser, West Virginia, it’s an absolute hoot. And what a change of seating arrangement for the smaller of the two Trafalgar Studios, doing away with its usual almost-in-the-round layout for a more traditional as-though-proscenium-arch formation. JD (Keith Stevenson) is something of a big friendly giant, to borrow a phrase from Roald Dahl, the lovechild of Pollyanna and Tigger, forever seeing the positives in any situation. Mitch (Robert Moloney) is not quite the polar opposite, but is not at his most sprightly, being the victim of circumstances, or rather the subject of a country and western song, having lost his other half, his car, his job and a roof over his head.
Tommy (Alex Ferns) is an incredibly explosive man, all guns blazing in more ways than one, although his methods are no match for the wisdom – if that’s the right word – and experience of Flip (Michael Wade), whose way with words is so hard-hitting the words ‘sledgehammer’ and ‘nut’ come to mind. Completing the set of characters is the Voice of the Sherriff (Michael Rothhaar), and the drug addict Marlene (Melanie Gray). Marlene had such an, um, interesting rapport with Mitch, the latter’s new guy reticence and culture shock being repeatedly misunderstood for aloofness and an uncaring attitude.
There aren’t, rather like the plays of Neil LaBute, any normal characters in the play, which makes all the buffoonery a new sort of ‘normal’, once the audience accepts the ordinary lies elsewhere, in other stories and other plays. There are surprises along the way, with artistic expression coming from the least likely of sources. The character development is all present and correct, particularly with Mitch, who gradually acknowledges, however reluctantly, his new surroundings, even if he struggles to, ahem, stomach a way of life so very different from what he’s been used to.
The distinct lack of political correctness here is refreshing in a world where one increasingly feels as though one is treading on eggshells whilst carrying the weekly shop. It’s not to everyone’s taste, for sure, but I’ve already booked a return visit. A larger than life production that punches well above its weight.
Until Saturday 3 June 2017, Trafalgar Studio 2, Whitehall
Photo credit: Gavin Watson
‘Sometimes a play just works on every level… ‘
London Theatre 1
‘Hugely watchable… a laugh-out-loud human satire’
‘Bizarre, hilarious and heartbreaking’
Carn’s Theatre Passion
Things could not get any worse for Mitchell, who just lost his girlfriend, his apartment, and his job. With nowhere to go, he answers an ad for a roommate and finds himself in a West Virginia countryside motel with JD, an affable hillbilly of mysterious origins. Soon JD’s neighbours - curmudgeonly Flip, meth-head Marlene, and her hot-headed boyfriend Tommy – have all but taken over the tiny room. When the group find themselves in a hostage situation, Mitchell must decide to save himself or join this dysfunctional family and let his freak flag fly.
Directed by Harry Burton, Out There On Fried Meat Ridge Rd. is a hillbilly comedy with a heart of gold.
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.