Keith Stevenson’s Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road became a cult hit when it opened in the States in 2012 – even spawning two equally well received sequels – and it’s not difficult to see why. Transferring from London’s White Bear Theatre to Trafalgar Studio 2 under director Harry Burton, this joyously bonkers little story about a bunch of misfits in a remote West Virginia motel is 70 all too short minutes of good-natured fun.
Mitch (Robert Moloney) has just lost his job at the local spork factory, had his car set on fire and been kicked out by his girlfriend. When he answers an ad for a roommate placed by the eccentric but loveable JD (Keith Stevenson), little does he realise things are about to get even worse. Sleazy motel landlord Flip (Michael Wade) think he’s gay, next door neighbour Marlene (Melanie Gray) thinks he’s David Schwimmer – and then there’s Tommy (Alex Ferns)…
It’s all barking mad, but very enjoyably so; an hour of pure escapism in which literally anything could – and does – happen. The larger than life characters prove to be a cautionary tale in the dangers of judging by appearance; they might look like stereotypes, but none of them is quite what they seem. This is particularly true for Keith Stevenson’s JD, possibly the nicest man in the world, whose imposing stature hides a gentle nature, kind heart and interesting back story. In light of said back story, it later seems fitting that it’s JD who delivers the moral of the story, which is simply this: be kind. As he himself points out, that’s not something we should need to be reminded of – yet somehow in today’s often self-obsessed world it ends up feeling like something of a revelation.
Simon Scullion’s set is cosy and lived-in, a wood-panelled motel room littered with JD’s clothes, possessions and casually discarded mini vodka bottles. The familiarity with which all the characters enter and make themselves at home helps establish the relationship between the friends; JD is the centre of the group, the one everyone comes to when they need support – and he in turn is always ready with a supply of tuna sandwiches and a few words of advice.
Stevenson’s irresistible JD has excellent support from Robert Moloney as Mitch, whose appearance grows increasingly dishevelled even as his inner turmoil settles. Alex Ferns’ poet/gangster Tommy revives the crazy-eyed menace of evil Trevor (that’s his famous Eastenders character from 15 years ago, for younger readers). Michael Wade is hilariously creepy as Flip the landlord, but even he has a protective streak where JD’s concerned. And hysterical drug addict Marlene is played to perfection by Melanie Gray, who makes her likeable and sympathetic where she could have been incredibly annoying.
If I have one complaint about the play, it’s that – unlike its unwieldy title – it’s too short; we can only hope the sequels soon make their way to London so we can find out what the gang get up to next. Out There On Fried Meat Ridge Road is not deep and meaningful, and is at times utterly bizarre. But it’s also fantastic entertainment that leaves you with a smile on your face and a warm fuzzy feeling inside. And a craving for tuna sandwiches. (Just me? Oh.)
Out There On Fried Meat Ridge Road is at Trafalgar Studio 2 until 3rd June.