Out There On Fried Meat Ridge Road at Trafalgar Studios – Mouthful of a title, whopper of a play.

The cast were well prepared for laughs, as they ought to be. From the word “spork”, the snorting laughter behind me roared out to continue throughout the 75-minute play. A cool, cluttered set, strewn with clothes, cans and tuna sandwiches reflects one man’s small-town life in West Virginia, USA. It is messy, cosy, cramped and loved – a true home, and a reflection of our protagonist, JD (Keith Stevenson).

Stevenson, also the playwright, embodies JD beautifully with chuckles and humble smiles aplenty. Each gentle word he speaks comes with ease and warmth, invoking smiles and coos from even the coldest audience member. Stevenson subtly provokes us to question his intentions, all to prove us and our preconceptions wrong. His happiness, naivety and innocence leaves us questioning his good faith – is he kind or simply dim-witted? His unearthly back story does nothing to help him, but our doubt of his character and good nature becomes itself a commentary on kindness. We all hope to be kind, but only in being presented with such selflessness and his kind-hearted soul do we doubt kindness; only in judging him do we question what it means to be kind.

Robert Moloney brings truth and reality to the scene in West Virginia in the role of Mitch. JD’s buddy is sweaty and nervous; he presents a stark contrast to the jovial JD. Despite a limited back story, Mitch portrays a (somewhat over-exaggerated) realistic character that we as an audience are more used to, and therefore comfortable with, seeing. His anxiety, misery and uncertainty brings out JD’s uplifting softness all the more. We watch as, over time, some of JD’s calm settles over Mitch, his inner turmoil subduing with the support of a new friend. The change is subtle and sly; his character develops and deepens alongside the storyline.

Humour is of course key to this play. The cast moves with anticipation – alert for the guffaws and applause – at times making the play feel regimented and overly farcical. Ironically, this further brings to life the play’s West Virginian backdrop; a nod to the canned laughter of American sitcoms. Characters hop into and out of the play, creating an upbeat rhythm but limiting character exploration. That said, the play is less about character depth and more about the moment: we are given an insight into a snippet of one month’s worth of drama, jam packed into one ‘not unusual’ night on Fried Meat Ridge Road.

The fluid rhythm and slapstick comedy is interspersed with moments of true comedic genius, sparking uproar and tears of laughter. But beneath the facade, the play deals with the hard topics in a casual and informal way – drug use, infidelity, racism, sexism… No more is this obvious than in the fabulously choreographed dance scene. With tension running high, what better way to release stress than to boogie? Stevenson’s face set in grim determination as he waves his jazz hands to the beat is silly, saucy and sassy.

Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Rd. presents you with hard truths, happy calamity and bizarre back stories. It is a play that boasts no glamour, just life and laughs.

 

★★★★★

Out There On Fried Meat Ridge Rd. will be running at Trafalgar Studios until 3rd June 2017. For more information and tickets, click here.