Review: Crocodile Fever at The Traverse

South Armagh, 1989, and there’s a bloody conflict raging across Ulster. The Troubles, though, feel like small fry compared to the war that’s consuming the Devlin household, where dark secrets have been festering for years. That might not sound like promising material for laughs, but award-winning playwright Meghan Tyler has used it to create a blistering black comedy, featuring chainsaws, Tony Bennett and a lot of alcohol. 

Downtrodden thirty-something Alannah (brilliantly played by Lucianne McEvoy) has been living a lonely, joy-free life of self-denial at the family home, tending to her paralysed father. The fragile peace is abruptly shattered when her younger sister, wild rebellious Fianna (the excellent Lisa Dwyer Hogg), on the run from who-knows-what demons, returns unannounced after a long absence.

It’s not long before the old wounds have been reopened and bitterness and recriminations threaten to leave the two women further apart than ever. They have each held fast to their own very different interpretations of a tragic, life-changing event from a decade before. Who is to blame? Who is guilty? Unless they can unite to defeat a common enemy, they won’t stand a chance. 

There are plenty of winces among the laughs and a desperate sadness at the heart of the story, but the unrelenting action and razor-sharp script propel us forward, towards a surreal and devastating conclusion. Outstanding.

Crocodile Fever, Traverse Theatre, until 25 August (not 12 or 19), various times

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