Review: Crocodile Fever, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Fringe

Crocodile Fever, Meghan Tyler’s new play at the Traverse, is 90 minutes of bold new writing, great performances, and one surprise after another.  

The man I was sitting beside in Traverse 1 was baffled by the audience’s enthusiastic response: “What was that?” I felt sorry for him. Why do so many audience members prefer that absolutely nothing happens to them when they go to the theatre? 

If you come to a play in order to think exclusively about where you parked your car, whatever you do, don’t go to see Crocodile Fever. Stay at home with your rich tea biscuits. To soothe the poor man beside me, I offered a few familiar (male) comparisons. “Couldn’t you describe the play as something like Sam Sheppard meeting Martin McDonagh? Via David Ireland sitting in the backseat?” 

It’s Northern Ireland in 1989. Fianna, wild and irreverent, has returned to the family home much to the chagrin of her timid sister Alannah. Immediately, the siblings are at loggerheads and — in 90 blistering minutes — they negotiate their own evolving relationship, the legacy of a tyrannical father (asleep upstairs) and come to terms, somewhat, with their mother’s death. 

Seem familiar? It should. Suppressed women, drink, inherited trauma, and the patriarchy. Sounds like… well every Irish play you’ve ever seen. It could all be so run of the mill, were it not for Meghan Tyler’s sheer refusal to adhere to typical theatrical templates. Another version of this play would see it told as a sad, slow coming-of-age journey of two sisters and their cruel father. Tyler’s play, on the other hand, is explosive. A fearless rollicking tour-de-force that dares to suggest that a play can say something important, while also being intelligent, joyous, and funny. Christ deliver us…  

We’re treated to superb acting from Lisa Dwyer Hogg, Lucianne McEvoy and Sean Kearns, guided adeptly by director Gareth Nicholls. Nicholls steers the play through its loop-de-loop explorations of genre and style, while still maintaining a kind of logical progression at the play’s absurd (and fabulous) climax. It might be important to include an audience disclaimer here — it gets rather gory. 

Hit plays from the Fringe tend to emulate each other somewhat in theme or gimmick. What’s interesting about Crocodile Fever is that it captures the zeitgeist but has its own fun and on its own terms. It’s not like any other play you’ll see in Edinburgh this year. And while every press release at the Fringe will insist their work is subversive, this play is the only one I’ve seen with real courage to back up such a statement. It is fearless, its tongue so firmly plastered in its cheek that it could rip a hole through your face. 

Later, following my shakily taken gin in the downstairs bar, I overheard my friend from the audience. “Ya, ya, ya. It’s like Sheppard meets McDonagh, no?” We were wrong. More like Meghan Tyler meets…. well more like Meghan Tyler full stop. I suppose we should get to know her name.

Crocodile Fever played the Traverse Theatre until 25 August as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival before transferring to the Lyric Theatre Belfast, playing until 8 September. For more information and tickets, see the Lyric Theatre website.