Meghan Tyler’s Crocodile Fever is a play of gleeful excess. Set in south Armagh in 1989, it’s a wickedly twisted tale of two sisters who turn the tables on their abusive father; a gruesome and cartoonish inverted fairytale in which the girls get to slay the wolf and take pleasure in doing so.
Alannah and Fianna haven’t seen each other for 11 years, not since Fianna was sent to prison for a crime committed by her sister.
Alannah’s spent the intervening years looking after their dad, who’s been left paralysed by the Paras. She’s kept the house immaculate, scrubbing every surface until it shines.
When Fianna clambers in through the window, sullying Alannah’s pristine kitchen, she sets in motion a chain of events that sees them exacting revenge on their tyrannical dad.
While there are echoes of Martin McDonagh here, The Beauty Queen of Leenane in particular, Tyler places female pain and rage at the centre of the play.
Horror ripples through the writing. The characters are horror film-literate. Alannah has a speech about Carrie; Fianna quotes from The Shining; this is juxtaposed with the omnipresent threat of a raid by British soldiers, and the monstrousness of men who abuse their wives and daughters – a different kind of horror.
Gareth Nicholls’ production is cartoon-bright and heightened. It plays out on Grace Smart’s chintzy pink kitchen-living room set, with its shrine to the girls’ dead mammy above the fireplace and its cupboards stuffed full of cleaning products and packets of Taytos for emotional emergencies.
There’s a filmic vividness to things as the sisters hit the gin and the violence escalates. The perky 1980s’ soundtrack adds to the blackly comic cocktail.
Lucianne McEvoy and Lisa Dwyer Hogg revel in the material. McEvoy invests every line with off-kilter energy; buttoned up and pious to begin with she lets rip when she lets her hair down, relishing the character’s mania and the play’s more surreal elements – Alannah gets a memorably bat-shit speech about the lyrics of the song Africa – while Dwyer Hogg continually undercuts Fianna’s swagger with vulnerability.
Nicholls’ direction doesn’t always nail the play’s exuberant tone though. It feels at times as if the play runs away from him, and while some of the mess is intentional, this is not always the case. There are moments that could definitely be tighter and the way the violence is pitched for laughs also feels under-interrogated.
But he delivers a few satisfyingly nasty jolts and surprises along the way along with a final coup de theatre in which the play plunges head-first into the realm of the fantastical.