It’s a shame, then, that when lockdown gave the busy director time to put pen to paper, the play he’s produced feels wholly unoriginal.
In The Snail House, which Eyre has also directed, family patriarch Neil Marriot (Vincent Franklin, with just the right balance of arrogance and floundering tenderness for his family) is throwing himself a party to celebrate his birthday and his Knighthood for services as a top paediatric doctor and government adviser during the pandemic. He’s hired the fancy hall at his son’s former private school and has 80 confirmed guests attending. But his own family – the aids he was hoping would prop him up on the night – are determined to use this coming together to air their grievances with Vincent as a lousy husband and father.
The Snail House. Vincent Franklin and Grace Hogg-Robinson. Credit: Manuel Harlan
A family celebration turned sour is as common a trope in theatre as it is in real life. More problematic is the fact we’ve met Eyre’s characters before. Joining the self-satisfied father on stage is his downtrodden, diplomatic wife Val (Eva Pope, the only likeable family member), his pompous, 25-year-old son Hugo (Patrick Walshe McBride, who has a slight tendency to over-act) and his 18-year-old tearaway daughter Sarah (a stroppy Grace Hogg-Robinson).
Hugo’s privileged schooling has armed him with an accent more posh than his Lancashire-born parents and a job as a political adviser. He’s achieved everything his parents hoped of him, but feels unloved, convinced his sister is the favourite child. You know his type. You’ll know hers too: Sarah is the rebellious daughter, blinded by her own privilege and furious at her parents for not letting her be her own person. ‘My anger lights up my world,’ she wails (she really is unbearable). To tick off another hot topic along with ‘pandemic’ and ‘Brexit’, Eyre has made Sarah a member of environmental protest group Extinction Rebellion, but revive this play in 10 years time and a new set of contemporary references could be used instead of each of these buzzwords, for not one of them gets explored in any depth.
Tapping into another trope, there’s a chasmic generational divide at play: Boomer dad wants Sarah to do something constructive with her activism, rather than labelling herself an environmentalist and chastising everyone else for their beliefs. But is he not just as much a hypocrite as she is, making policies rather than working on the ground?
The Snail House. Grace Hogg-Robinson, Amanda Bright and Vincent Franklin. Credit: Manuel Harlan
Not one member of this middle class family is a doer, and their attitudes to work are jarringly juxtaposed with the three other characters on stage: catering manager Florence (a stoic Amanda Bright) and her staff, Wynona (a gobby Megan McDonnell, with a beautiful singing voice) and Habeeb (a head down Raphel Famotibe). While the family members bicker between themselves, the caterers unload crates and lay the table.
There’s a secondary, more interesting plot line that links Florence to Neil, raising an interesting point about the power those with status have over those without – especially in court – which on its own, could have made a more interesting play.
The action takes place entirely in designer Tim Hatley’s grandeur-steeped dining room, where portraits of white, male masters hang on oak-panelled walls and a formally-laid banquet table takes centre stage. John Leonard’s sound design and Hugh Vanstone’s lighting work together to create the impression there’s a big, buzzy party just beyond the dining room.
In spite of its name, The Snail House is pacy and at times, verges on being an enthralling family drama. It just seems that having directed so many stereotypical plot lines and players over the years (as well as great dramas), Eyre has absorbed them into his own writing, as if by osmosis.
|What||The Snail House, Hampstead Theatre review|
|Where||Hampstead Theatre, Eton Avenue, Swiss Cottage, London, NW3 3EU | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Swiss Cottage (underground)|
07 Sep 22 – 15 Oct 22, 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|