Reza de Wet’s Fever casts a Gothic eye over the lives of two adult sisters around the time of the Boer Wars. Katy (Peta Cornish) lives a middle-class life in England, whilst her sister Emma (Sian Clifford) is in South Africa working as a teacher on a remote farm.
The siblings’ story is related as a series of letters and diary extracts. One stage set doubles as the bedroom for both women, who have enjoyed an extremely close friendship and relationship. In this way Designer Victoria Johnstone and Lighting Designer Charlie Lucas enable us to focus on one woman at a time although both are on stage for the duration of the play. Katy addresses her dead sister across the continents, believing that she can sense her proximity as she reads aloud from her letters and her diary. She alternates with Emma who acts out the epistles so that we are drawn in at both first and third hand.
Initially we suspect that Emma may be the subject of unwarranted sexual advances from her widowed employer Mr Brand, but as the story proceeds she appears more as a hysterical Victorian spinster and unreliable narrator. Does he really come into her room at night, or do her repressed sexuality, and the side effects of the laudanum she takes to help her to sleep, furnish her vivid and fertile imagination. As her emotions become ever more aroused and agitated in South Africa, Katy makes herself ill with the consequences and causes of her sister’s suicide. At home in England she is infantalised by her male relatives and the nurse they employ to take care of her.
Both actresses enable us to see how Victorian women could struggle in a repressive patriarchal society, where self-determination, in spite of careers and childbirth, is not and cannot be fulfilled. Whereas Fugard’s play, which occupies the same season, deals with the political, this one is firmly concerned with the personal. It supplies an interesting and thought-provoking contrast to the earlier play.