Written by Meghan Tyler
Directed by Gareth Nicholls
It’s the 80’s in South Armagh, and we’re in the height of the Troubles. The IRA is a vocation, and paramilitaries make house calls, but they’re not exactly interested in cups of tea. It’s said that time heals all wounds, but in Crocodile Fever the only way to put the past to bed is to get legless with a strong spirit and a dose of black humour.
We’re invited into the home of Alannah, where we’d likely not be welcome, as she fastidiously cleans her kitchen surface with a clenched fist and a twisted foot. She is the physical embodiment of an anxiety disorder, with her neatly arranged (sad) crisps, cat-bum pursed mouth, and her colour-coded cleaning supplies. Alannah’s world is deliberate and pious, until the fateful evening when her estranged sister Fianna comes literally crashing into her world, with all guns blazing to celebrate the death of their autocratic father. There is no love lost between these antagonistic sisters, and the only similarity they appear to share is a love for booze, even if one goes for dark liquor in the open, and the other chooses light liquor in the shadows. Dualism is present in each fibre; from the IRA to the paramilitaries, a loving parent to the insidious manipulation from the other, from having physical freedom but still remaining trapped in a traumatic past. In many ways, the characters are the land in which they live; fighting for freedom while enduring forced habituation.
The characters of Alannah and Fianna are wonderfully realised; Lisa Dwyer Hogg’s portrayal of the rebellious Fianna is bawdy but stirring, making the most inventive use of colloquial profanities possible. She possesses a Vyvyan Basterd aura with her wanton unpredictability and spasmodic movements. In contrast, Lucianne McEvoy gives us a character in Alannah that is heartbreakingly isolated, controlled, yet simultaneously tender. But Alannah’s metamorphosis is going to break the mould from which the Devlin sisters were made.
The set is a work of art; it’s as well-crafted as Bobby Fisher’s chessboard and says as much about the characters as does the keen dialogue. The choice of décor mixes religious iconography with an idolatry of motherhood, and the Pepto Bismol pink is just enough to settle our unease that something is brewing behind the scenes. We’re reminded through subtle and not-so methods of the impact of the troubles on the lives of the two women and the pounding on the walls more than resembles a drum beat, reminding us that no matter how far you try to run from your past, it has its way of crawling up behind you.
I hear the drums echoing tonight, but it’s not just song lyrics that will end up being butchered. Crocodile Fever is an exhilarating experience of sisterhood, abuse, and politics, which will incite laughter through mouths agape with shock. Meghan Tyler’s writing has bred comparisons to Tarantino and Thelma and Louise, but Crocodile Fever is an animal all of its own.