Review: The Snail House, Hampstead Theatre

After an illustrious career directing and adapting, Richard Eyre turns his hand to original writing with mixed results in The Snail House at Hampstead Theatre

“I’m not saying I was wise or heroic…”

Richard Eyre’s CV comprises much directing (including Artistic Director of the National Theatre from 1988-1997) and adapting of other people’s work but The Snail House actually registers as his first completely original play. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he also clocks on as director here at the Hampstead Theatre though over the couple of hours of this drama, you wonder if a different pair of eyes might have been able to enhance the material somewhat.

Neil is a paediatrician whose storied career – including public appearances during the pandemic – has led to a knighthood and he’s throwing a party to let everyone congratulate him about it. Cos he’s that kinda guy, unafraid to ride roughshod over anyone to get what he wants, even if – or especially if – they’re members of his family, but other shadows from the past threaten to loom large as we visit the build up to and the aftermath of this august gathering.

Vincent Franklin does a manful job at inhabiting the totem of rich white male entitlement that is Neil, abrasive in the extreme and utterly unable to conceive he could ever be wrong, even as the evidence is right there in front of him, two-fold. Grace Hogg-Robinson as his 18-year-old daughter Sarah who has fled the coop to become an activist represents the one; Amanda Bright’s caterer Florence – who has history with Neil – the other, but neither role has the same depth of characterisation to fully engage us in their struggles.

The detail of Tim Hatley’s smart set design is impressive but an equivalent detail in the writing feels lacking. Whether tackling the generational divide or class (and obliquely, race) conflict, there’s just not much conviction to the debates nor any real insight into how they might be tackled towards progress. And gingerly stepping around the pandemic feels like a missed opportunity, given its initial explicit presence here. The result is an old-fashioned piece of theatre which doesn’t have enough to say to make it stand out.

Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Photos: Manuel Harlan
The Snail House is booking at the Hampstead Theatre until 15th October

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