OUT THERE ON FRIED MEAT RIDGE ROAD
By Keith Stevenson
Trafalagar Studios 2, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY, to 3 June 2017.
1hr 10 mins. without interval.
TICKETS: 0844 871 7615
Review: Tom Aitken, 08 May 2017
Thoroughly enjoyable.Playwright Keith Stevenson reveals that he produced the first draft of this play from scratch in three weeks, in response to a request for a contribution to a season of readings of new plays in Venice, California. Some revisions and additions were made before it was staged in the form it now takes, but much of what we see and hear was seen and heard by that first audience.
I can imagine some theatregoers being irritable and offended by the result. The audience the night I saw it, however, responded as the author would have hoped: almost incessant laughter, gasps of surprise and, above all, total concentration.
I can just about imagine, however, even today, some theatregoers shaking their heads in disbelief and disapproval.
I was not surprised to read, in Harry Burton’s director’s programme note, that ‘it’s taken us quite a while to get Keith’s deliciously immoral morality play onto the London stage.’
The play is set in West Virginia, seventy-five per cent of which consists of mountains and forests. Its motto, apparently, is ‘Mountaineers are always free.’
The set is a bedroom in a lodging house for itinerant workers. The owner, shouting bullying obscenities, appears from time to time, as do several other people of either sex. Their behaviour and the coarse dialogue, much of it shouted simultaneously and competitively, make it clear that in this rural backwater conventional codes of good behaviour have no currency. Strangers of different sexes may find themselves sharing a room. Even a bed. So what?
The play, however, is no mere shouting match. It is a study of the interaction of six very different people, who try to cope with a life that most of them find difficult, even at times actively hostile. The action takes place within one day, and one is left feeling that although tomorrow will be in one way much the same as today and so ad infinitum, these people they keep on trying to cope within their own lights.
I was glad that this play was no longer, but I enjoyed the experience and found it, despite the shouting and brute physicality of much of the behaviour, informed throughout by the poignancy of people of limited intelligence trying in different ways to get through life without shouting and screaming and physical roughness.
It is, despite that poignancy, also very funny.
One final piece of possibly surprising information: Fried Meat Ridge Road is a real place in Keyser, West Virginia.