Theatre review - The Snail House

RICHARD Eyre’s family drama (which he also directs) is set in the present day. Given his prolific career in the theatre, it’s remarkable that The Snail House is 79-year-old Eyre’s first completely original play.

Neil Marriot (Vincent Franklin), an eminent paediatrician, is celebrating his birthday and recent knighthood. During the pandemic he became a familiar figure on TV as a government medical adviser.

He’s decided to throw a lavish party in a grand room in his son’s old private school (meticulously realised by designer Tim Hatley). He’s joined by his long-suffering wife, Val (Eva Pope), political adviser son Hugo (Patrick Walshe McBride), and climate activist daughter Sarah (Grace Hogg-Robinson).

They are looked after by three catering staff. The twist comes when the manager, Florence (Amanda Bright), reveals that Sir Neil’s past actions effectively ruined her life – although she appears remarkably composed while in the same room as him.

Eyre interweaves the political and the personal to great effect. However, the staging and tone feel decidedly old-fashioned; the family bicker between themselves, and some interesting points are made about class, modern values, and ambition, but no one leaves markedly changed.

During the course of the first act, which takes place in real time, the table is set for the dinner. Because the party proper takes place in another room off-stage, the exits and entrances into the oak-panelled dining room occasionally feel contrived. The play only ignites with the confrontations between father and daughter and Sir Neil and Florence.

The performances are spot on and I imagine many will identify with the siblings’ exasperation at how out of touch their parents have become. There are several memorable moments to savour – my favourite is when 18-year-old Sarah presents her father with a poster of Greta Thunberg.

Until October 15