sat 07/12/2019

Edinburgh Fringe 2019 review: Crocodile Fever | reviews, news & interviews

Edinburgh Fringe 2019 review: Crocodile Fever

Edinburgh Fringe 2019 review: Crocodile Fever

Pantomime excess in Meghan Tyler's wild but unconvincing new comedy

Squabbling sisters: Lisa Dwyer Hogg and Lucianne McEvoy sparkle in flawed comedy Crocodile FeverLara Cappelli

Chekhov famously pronounced that if you’re going to bring a gun on stage, you’ve got to use it. Is the same true for a chainsaw? To discover the answer, just head along to Meghan Tyler’s wild, over-the-top, gruesome Crocodile Fever at the Traverse Theatre.

It’s tempting, in fact, to draw parallels between Crocodile Fever and David Ireland’s brutal but hilarious Ulster American last year, with its rape gags and casual racism. Not that either of those elements appear in this year’s outrageous offering (is a shocking comedy becoming a Traverse Fringe tradition?), but Crocodile Fever shares Ulster American’s interrogation of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and also its director, Gareth Nicholls.

And Nicholls has a fine time here with Tyler’s razor-sharp dialogue and larger-than-life characters – even if he seems to struggle when trying to pick apart Crocodile Fever’s copious themes and on-stage excesses.

In South Armagh, pious, obedient Alannah is keeping her kitchen obsessively clean, when her long-lost sister – imprisoned for a terrible family crime years before – crashes back into her life, and sets off a chain reaction unearthing horrifying family secrets and terrible spirits from the Amazon. Yes indeed, there’s a point about halfway through when Tyler seems to loosen her ties with credibility beyond salvation.

This is a shame, because there’s lot of good stuff early on in the play. She details the sisters’ squabbling but loving relationship in brilliantly sparky dialogue, and the sudden appearance of another family member comes as a genuine shock. Likewise, her Troubles setting – complete with spitting, contemptuous English soldier carrying out a night-time raid – offers a nervy backdrop and plenty of possibilities, though few of them are explored in any great depth.

Nicholls’s two leads tread a fine line between naturalism and pantomime excess very successfully. Lucianne McEvoy as Alannah transforms gloriously from a butter-wouldn’t-melt domestic angel to screaming, Carrie-like harridan, while Lisa Dwyer Hogg as her ex-con sister Fianna is all swagger and bluster, with an aching vulnerability just underneath. Grace Smart’s wonderfully evocative, startlingly detailed set, too, deserves special mention – even if it’s left virtually in smithereens by the end.

Crocodile Fever is certainly a wild ride, but what’s less clear is whether it ever arrives at a convincing destination.

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