Out There On Fried Meat Ridge Road is a peculiarly plush piece. An intricately constructed set wedged into the cosily refurbished White Bear in Kennington, the show comes across almost akin to some zany Sam Shepherd tribute – obsessed with enclosed, often trivialised personal drama, fraught family tensions and the dishonest side of romance. Writer and lead Keith Stevenson has certainly constructed something charmingly quaint – a rib tickler for the south London audiences.
The plot is the typical ‘everyman placed in elusively alien waters’ trope – Robert Moloney’s Mitch, fresh from a disastrous marriage, arrives at the titular Fried Meat Ridge Road in West Virginia, in the hope of renting a room belonging to J.D (Stevenson). J.D, an eccentric yet well-to-do kindly soul, plies Mitch with vodka, tuna sandwiches and the occasional Mountain Dew – against the backdrop of a warring couple, Tommy and Marlene. It’s a bombastic, unashamed scripts that occasionally lets rip with some superb one-liners, and, though by no means consistent, was by no means a dull affair.
Director Harry Burton pulls off a few fabulous touches here – utilising an incredibly small place yet never allowing the show to feel cramped or static (save for one of Marlene’s tempestuous moments, involving a flipped chair and some stamping, which felt awkwardly placed at the back corner of the theatre). Burton has tapped into Stevenson’s real lack of inhibition with the play, letting the show’s anarchy speak for itself in constructing fun and comedic skits.
Performance wise it’s Stevenson, the dab hand and experienced vet, that stands out here – constantly at ease, rattling off lines with a familiarity totally in keeping with a character based on this concept of remaining zen. There was certainly something intrinsically narcissistic about a writer casting himself as a pseudo deity (as the plot makes clear as the show progresses) but it was all in the name of fun, light-hearted theatre.
The remainder of the cast were largely hit and miss – Robert Moloney provided a pitch-perfect Mitch, but it was the warring Tommy and Marlene that too frequently resorted to a stereotypically two-dimensional delivery – without hesitation launching into vast shouting matches and episodes that dulled the piece’s overall flow. In such a small space, overacting is far more pronounced than in larger spaces.
A whelming experience, therefore, for the White Bear’s space. A fanciful and novel ditty, the show is perfect local theatre entertainment – though seldom much more.