Reviews Manchester Published 7 October 2014


Royal Exchange Studio ⋄ 1st- 18th October 2014

Bucks Fizz, Punch and Judy and a psychic baby.

John Murphy

Crocodiles arrives at the Royal Exchange with a fair bit of fanfare behind it. As the winner of the inaugural Hodgkiss Award, Ng Choon Ping was given free reign to choose a piece of new work and bring it to life in the Royal Exchange’s studio space. Ping’s choice was this dark, surreal tale from writer Lee Mattinson about the Glass family who live in a run-down former hotel in an unnamed seaside town in the North-East.

This is no ordinary seaside town though: the titular reptiles patrol the sea, and there’s casual mention of witch-burnings in the village square within the first 10 minutes. Prodigal son Vincent arrives back home after an unidentified indiscretion saw him being fired from his job on children’s TV; he’s welcomed back home by his mother Cornelia, and less enthusiastically by his older brother Rudolph and his wife Matilda.

Over the next two hours the family slowly implodes with the help of a Punch and Judy show, puppetry, and a song and dance routine. There are incestuous gay yearnings and a disabled baby who can tell the future by whistling. In fact there’s almost too much going on in Crocodiles and it feels messy, with elements of creepy comedy in the vein of the League of Gentlemen butting against more self-conscious attempts at the surreal. 

The four-strong cast do their best with the material, though there are more than a few fumbles along the way and a reliance on stage prompts. Melanie Hill is energetic as Cornelia the matriarch, while former Hollyoaks actor James Atherton has the most likable role as the returning son Vincent. They have a strong rapport, sparking off each other pleasingly; Sarah Gordy displays some solid comic timing as Matilda but Kevin Watcham can’t do much with his unpleasant, whiney character and it’s impossible to warm to him, even during his character’s funniest moments.

The humour in Crocodiles is likely to be devisive; indeed, at some points I actually heard people mutter ‘this isn’t funny, why are people laughing?’ It feels like Mattinson and Ping are both overdoing things. At one point the entire cast act out Bucks Fizz’s ‘Making Your Mind Up’ – complete with a botched skirt ripping – and the big reveal of Cornelia’s much talked about boyfriend is almost too silly for words. It’s a difficult moment for the play to recover from.

The tone of the writing is all over the place; sometimes it feels like it’s trying to be a gritty family drama, at other times a surreal comedy. It feels like there should be an air of menace, what with the fights between brothers and all the talk of blackened skeletons being pulled out of vans, yet suddenly a man in a crocodile suit will appear. It’s not a play that wants to explain itself: every so often Matilda will stop to read extracts from her self-penned ‘erotic novel’ and we are never told the reason why Vincent was fired from his job. Instead of creating an air of mystery it makes it hard to emotionally invest in any of them. This scattergun, messy approach makes the play appear half-sketched, as confused as it is confusing. 


John Murphy

John is the former editor of, and current contributor to, musicOMH. He lives in Sheffield, in the shadow of the famous Crucible and Lyceum theatres, and also reviews in nearby Leeds and Manchester. John is also a huge fan of stand-up comedy, and can be often be found in one of Sheffield's comedy clubs, laughing like a madman.

Crocodiles Show Info

Directed by Ng Choon Ping

Written by Lee Mattinson

Cast includes Melanie Hill, James Atherton, Sarah Gordy, Kevin Wathen




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