an imperfect but fascinating debut work by 79-year-old Richard Eyre

an imperfect but fascinating debut work by 79-year-old Richard Eyre

The Snail House, Hampstead Theater - Manuel Harlan

The Snail House, Hampstead Theater – Manuel Harlan

We think of rookie playwrights as unknown young men, not 79-year-old former artistic directors of the National Theater. In 1968, Richard Eyre adapted a novel [Jennifer Dawson’s The Ha-Ha], who met with approval at the Hampstead Theater but lost faith in his abilities. Now, more than half a century later, he comes full circle in Hampstead by presenting his first original work. In the week that Charles ascended the throne at the age of 73, it could be said that he is delivering another blow to those of retirement age who face new challenges.

We’ll see what the former apparent heir does. As for Eyre, it is evident that while The Snail House (which he also directs) has the flaws in him, he displays a talent in writing that is worth encouraging. Also, I applaud this effort given the insanity of the theater industry, especially now, when those deemed pale, masculine and stale have their work cut out seen as part of the solution, not a problem. I would like to suggest that the din of that culture war is heard in the bitter clash of generations that Eyre describes in a quarrelsome family home evening.

There is a topical sheen to his central character, Neil Marriot, who is knighted for child health services after “becoming” – so they say – “familiar to millions since his television appearances as a government medical consultant. “during the pandemic. Marriot is throwing a party in his son’s big old school to celebrate; the beginning finds restaurateurs joining together in a funny way. At 55, he’s roughly the same age as Chris Whitty, but even if a pivotal scene sees medical arrogance and destructive adherence to scientific evidence challenged, this doesn’t seem like an answer to the Covid saga.

What Eyre seems most subtly interested in – and valuable – in is the way in which ideological stance can nurture and foster personal distancing; Whether it’s Brexit or climate change, what is said under the angriest speech can be simply: Why don’t you listen? Or why don’t you love me?

The main problem is that he forgot to make the Marriotts nice enough. Vincent Franklin’s bloated, self-taught pediatrician visibly withers under the flurry of internal criticism from those who have been provided with: lamented by his daughter Sarah, a purposeless eco-activist, his gay son, hatefully Tory but quietly hurt Hugo and his respectful wife Val. The guests, heard offstage, never intrude.

So, the script needs tweaking and the scenario definitely requires more characters. Yet the pain that Eyre is exploring is valid and the interpretations she elicits, particularly from Grace Hogg-Robinson and Patrick Walshe McBride as young adults with daddy issues, deserve praise. Not one to run to but with work, like a snail, he could still get there.

Until October 15th. Tickets: 020 7722 9301; hampsteadtheatre.com

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