A new play written and directed by Richard Eyre is something to look forward to. Neil Marriot an eminent paediatrician and recent scientific adviser to the government during the pandemic, think Chris Whitty or Patrick Valance, is preparing to celebrate both his birthday and his elevation to a knighthood. Unfortunately, the meticulously planned celebrations are marred by the internecine warfare between the members of his dysfunctional family and the revelation of a historic medical misjudgement with appalling consequences.
There are topical themes aplenty in this piece: management of the pandemic, enduring class divisions, the incompetence of contemporary politicians, Brexit, race, the inequalities of private and public education, north/ south divisions and even references to the monarchy, although it was written well before the passing of her late Majesty. Richard Eyre is clearly a man with much on his mind. The choice to concentrate on the issues of divisions within a nuclear family and medical malpractice were surprising.
The acting was universally excellent. The two actors who stood out were the two young women: Grace Hogg-Robinson as the disaffected and estranged daughter, an environmental activist who wanted to reject the privileges which her father’s private medical practice afforded her and Megan McDonnell, the feisty Irish waitress whose unaccompanied singing was a feature of the play.
The set designed by Tim Hatley, was magnificent depicting the panelled hall of a minor public school hung with pictures of past headmasters. The large stage was used effectively to set up and subsequently dismantle the table settings for the dinner by the waiting staff during the action of the play. The choreography of the setting of the table was impressive. Unfortunately, the large Hempstead Theatre main stage is really rather too large for a play of this type the majority of which was intensive reactions between a limited number of characters. The result was that the actors were talking, or more often arguing, with each other over quite long distances; a more constrained playing area might have been more effective.
This is an intriguing piece of theatre, very well presented, but it suffered from a lack of subtlety and too many untidy sub themes and was ultimately rather unsatisfying.
Playing until 15th October, https://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/whats-on/2022/the-snail-house/
Reviewer: Paul Ackroyd
Reviewed: 17th September 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★