If you think the title of the play is deliciously odd, just wait until you sit through the plot twists: Out There On Fried Meat Ridge Rd. is the most unusual hit of 2017. A one act story, down-on-his-luck Mitchell (Robert Moloney) answers a newspaper ad for a roommate and is horrified to find himself plunged into another unfortunate situation.
Midway through the 70 minute performance, I expected the show to descend into a rip-off of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, yet there was nothing predictable about this strange, magnificent play. It’s hilarious. And peculiar. Yes, the humour is simple and won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you like offbeat American TV shows, you’ll love this play. It’s like a Netflix pilot, only live.
Set in a squalid motel room in West Virginia, maintenance man JD lives in what looks like a cross between a Tracey Emin exhibit and a crack house. The intricate design, from Simon Scullion, is wonderfully grubby; enough to make anyone with OCD about cleanliness want to storm the stage with bleach.
The show’s writer, Keith Stevenson, stars as JD and layers an inspiring gentleness over the role of a seemingly halfwit hillbilly looking for someone to share his ‘home’. Drug addict, Marlene (Melanie Gray), and her philandering boyfriend, Tommy – a wise-guy from Jersey, played by Scottish actor Alex Ferns – rent the room next door and motel owner, Flip (Michael Wade), also makes an appearance.
Moloney’s Mitchell is vividly sketched with nerves and anxiety, offset by the intriguing calm of Stevenson’s JD. Wade is successfully repulsive as a blunt-talking, racist, old coot and Gray, a Londoner with a scarily convincing Southern twang, ensures screechy Marlene is suitably twitchy and spaced out.
Adjusting to Ferns sounding like Joe Pesci was more of a challenge because I’ve grown up with the actor on my TV screen in soaps like Eastenders and Brookside, yet once I settled into his performance, I quickly forgot his Scottish roots and Tommy came to life with glorious flair.
Director Harry Burton can switch to a career in wildlife documentaries if he ever gets bored of the theatre, because there were moments when I felt like David Attenborough, studying a family of rare mammals. I was leaning forward in my seat, fascinated by the interactions and behaviour of the characters, wondering what could possibly happen next. Fortunately, there was no need for binoculars: Burton’s rare beasts are currently housed in Trafalgar Studio 2, a small theatre offering a close up view of all on stage.
The show’s debut in the West End follows a successful run at the White Bear Theatre in Kennington, but its success across the pond has already spawned two sequels. This is the only aspect of the play which isn’t surprising: funny, ingenious and wonderfully heart-warming, Out There On Fried Meat Ridge Rd. is one of the best shows I’ve seen all year.
Cast: Kevin Stevenson, Robert Maloney, Alex Ferns, Melanie Gray, Michael Wade and Michael Rothhar (voice) Theatre: Trafalgar Studio 2, Whitehall, London, SW1A 2DY Writer: Keith Stevenson Director: Harry Burton Performance Dates: 2nd May – 3rd June 2017