This show is a real delight. If you feel in need of some relief from the – admittedly riveting – election that currently has the nation gripped then you could do a lot worse than making the trip to Trafalgar Studios to be taken out of yourself and have a good laugh.
You will meet JD, played with affectionate panache by Keith Stevenson. JD lives out there, I mean really out there, on Fried Meat Ridge, which you get to via hicksville, turning left at hillbilly avenue, skirting around backwater bay until you light upon the archetypal American one horse town. Everything here is red in neck and claw and JD… well JD believes he’s the grandson of god (sired by Jesus out of the Turin Shroud). Oh yes. JD’s neighbours are intimidating, gun-toting, poet-gangster Tommy and scatty, meth-smoking painter-moll Marlene. They are a couple who don’t appear to like each other much and take it in turns to use JD as referee or punch-bag as the mood grabs them.
As JD’s dad wasn’t around and his un-virgin- Mary-like mother died from a veritable gang of STDs he was taken under the wing of irascible, intolerant, homophobic racist, Flip, who owns a motel with a Trip Avoider rating that’s off the scale and he allows JD to stay in the room for free in return for keeping the motel in some kind of running order. Not much of a running order if his own room is anything to go by – an immaculately dishevelled tip of a set by designer Simon Scullion.
Stumbling into this combustible ménage à trouble is Mitch, the sweaty-palmed, homeless and car-less innocent abroad, who has been kicked out by his girlfriend, has lost his job in the spork factory (you know, those plastic
spoon/fork cross-overs used by KFC and… er… whatever), had his wheels burnt by marauding sports girls and is not only Norwegian by extraction but has arrived in West Virginia via Maine. Yes, JD, Maine: it’s a State and they
have lobsters in the sea!
Mitch has walked ten miles in search of a room. JD has advertised for a housemate. The room is JD’s motel room with twin beds. Mitch was hoping for a modicum of privacy but at least his bed doesn’t reek of deer piss – JD’s
Cologne of choice.
Keith Stevenson’s play is a wondrous exploration of backwoods America where the substance abuse of preference is Mountain Dew and monotony is viewed as a legitimate way of life. Stevenson, who revels in the central role of
JD that he has created, puts the drum into humdrum and the hum into ho-hum to create excitement in a set of apparently comic-book characters but who are actually very true to life – I know, I’ve met their like. Born and bred in West Virginia himself – considered to be the northernmost southern state and southernmost northern state – he knows his people and understands their desires, their impulses and their raison d’être: it’s an electric performance by Stevenson.
Alex Ferns as Tommy has a soft underbelly to his thug persona – he is particularly wounded when Marlene describes his simplistic poetry as “clearly derivative”. Michael Wade as Flip would fit neatly into the “fruitcake and loony” style of U-Kipper though his racism is anything but closet: a bruisingly amusing performance. Robert Moloney as Mitch does a great job of portraying a man who is clearly out there on the edge and is not intending to send a postcard. And Melanie Gray as Marlene gives us the whole caboodle: a teasing, squirming, pouting, scratching, simpering, snarling, screeching, sarky, narky specimen of a female freak-show (I’m using red-neck vernacular here, of course) which lurches precipitously from the charming to the funny to the bizarre: an entirely authentic portrayal by Gray who completely gets the Marlene motivation.
Harry Burton’s soft-touch direction lets the characters grow and gel whilst allowing the poetic rhythm of Stevenson’s play to thrive and blossom. The play is the first part of a trilogy and I for one would love to see productions of the two sequels. On a more prosaic note, it was good to have an Obi Wan Kenobi name check on Star Wars Day. And – unlike the Bible – I’m not going to toss in here a denouement spoiler.
There’s always a warm welcome at Trafalgar Studios by the numerous friendly and helpful staff: and the high-quality drama on show – as personified by Out There On Fried Meat Ridge Rd. – renders return visits a must.
Review by Peter Yates
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.
Trafalgar Studio Two
14 Whitehall, London, SW1A 2DY