Stepping into the Traverse, I was transported to the pious home of Lucianne McEvoy’s (seemingly) submissive Alannah, shamefully tucking in to a bag of her self-titled ‘sad crisps’. Her perfectly pink and sterile bubble not only bursts, but explodes, as Alannah’s renegade sister Fianna – brought to life by Lisa Dwyer Hogg – crashes in through the window, leaving a trail of muddy footprints behind her. These are but the first steps into chaos, which ensues in the sisters’ efforts to redress the patriarchal suppression of their abusive father.
Crocodile Fever is the latest dark comedy from Northern Irish playwright Meghan Tyler, a winner of the Channel 4 Playwright’s Scheme in 2019. Though the play is set in a rural Catholic household during the Troubles, the social context is not the focus, rather the necessary pretext for a raucous and unbelievable set of events. The reality of raiding paramilitaries becomes normalised in contrast to the magical-realist storyline and bloody violence in the home.
McEvoy and Dwyer Hogg’s respective Alannah and Fianna are polar opposites – the former embodied in her ‘hairstyle of efficiency’ and meticulously-prepared gin and tonic, the latter in her unkept Gene Simmonds-esque barnet and slurped wine glass of rum. Despite their apparent and underlying differences, the two find unity in their mutual hatred of the smell of their reptilian father’s pipe. Their believable personal relationship both drives and grounds the surreal storyline.
Leaving the same household seventy minutes later – in a considerably more disorderly state – I chuckled listening to a Gaelic version of ‘Africa’, a subtle reference to Alannah’s earlier misunderstanding of the titular line as ‘I guess it rains on an apricot’. In these details, Gareth Nicholls’ production and Grace Smart’s set and staging strengthen Tyler’s well-crafted links between the individual story and the wider social context.
Crocodile Fever runs at the Traverse Theatre until 25 August 2019.