Joe Eyre writes and performs Crocodile, a show about the fearsome devotion that drives a father to protect his daughter at all costs. Daniel Perks reviews:

Little girl Sarah is not boring, she’s just different. Her father can see that, so why can’t everybody else? In Joe Eyre’s Crocodile, the best intentions can drive a man to madness as he fights tooth and nail to protect his own.

Odinn Orn Hilmarsson’s sound design gently hums and throbs in the background, an exquisite introduction of pulsating rhythms that sets the scene subtly for the drama to unfold. Eyre both writes and performs Crocodile, an absurdist tale about the instinct that overwhelms a father as soon as he lays eyes on his new-born daughter. His character will instantly do whatever it takes to keep his offspring, his own flesh and blood, from harm. And little Sarah is different. She’s a Crocodile after all. Not that that matters to a loving, doting, violently protective parent.

What is instantly striking about the Crocodile narrative is that it opens by showcasing the male as being the protective lioness, fiercely devoted to his cub and accusing the mother of neglect. An interesting shift of perspective, one that Eyre easily portrays with animalistic ferocity. It oozes through his delivery but is equally concentrated in his mannerisms – the subtle look out of the corner of his eye, the pregnant pause that provides both comic effect and sinister intent.

Of course, true to Eyre’s writing style, all is not what it seems. This dark comedy is a tale of twists and turns, a slow build to the conclusion that proves how first impressions count for nothing. Eyre easily embodies a Jekyll-and-Hyde inspired personality, his twisted moral compass spinning constantly. Such transitions are at times confusing and slow, often marked out better by Matthew Carnazza’s lighting design rather than by the performance on stage. Green hues and backlighting indicate the shift in thought process and Eyre can be a split second behind when reflecting these within himself.

Joe Eyre (image courtesy of Lars Thornhill)

It’s the middle part of Crocodile that ultimately becomes bogged down in its own concept. The anecdotes themselves are peppered with shock laughter, perfectly delivered by Eyre and well directed by Will Maynard. But this section of the story is bark without bite, a ferocious attitude without the subsequent follow-through. As the final scene rapidly approaches, the climactic build-up occurs too suddenly – it leaves the audience behind, scrabbling to piece the series of events together. Crocodile is intriguing more so than muddling, and yet its impact is somewhat lost in translation by a show that needs to rethink its overarching tempo.

Both Eyre’s script and performance are full of belief, conviction and promise. An intentionally unclear duality is a clever balance of informative monologue and philosophical meta-narrative, asking questions of its audience and leaving them debating long after the production has finished. The rationality is a crime of passion, a visceral acceptance of our base animal instincts that require us to protect our young at all costs. In this sense, Crocodile is a fearsome show. But it needs to maintain that intensity throughout, rather than overcomplicate and lose it by the end.

★★★☆☆

Crocodile ran as part of London Horror Festival at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 16 October. For more information, visit the venue website here.