The Snail House is the grand debut for Richard Eyre who, for the first time, has double billing as both playwright and director. This delicate dance and balancing act is on masterful display at Hampstead Theatre.


The Snail House features a post-pandemic family at odds politically, emotionally, and fundamentally as they gather together to celebrate the knighthood of their patriarch honored for his work in pediatric medicine. What follows is a moving exploration of certainty, doubt, belief systems, and modern identity politics complicated by shared blood. 


It will be hard to single out individual performances because Casting Director Ginny Schiller has done exquisite work building not only a cohesive family but a contrasting company of caterers and event staff to weave in sociocultural context and comedic relief to this family drama. 


Patrick Walshie McBride’s Hugo possesses charm and wit beyond measure. Grace Hogg-Robinson as Sarah maintains a furrowed brow and a holier than thou "woke-ness" that both inspires, breaks the heart, and enrages. Eva Pope as Val overflows with humanity and hilarity as she struggles to hold a sparring family together. And bringing much-needed levity to the piece, Megan McDonnell as Wynona shines as a comedienne, clown, and songstress. Amanda Bright's Florence and Raphel Famotibe's Habeeb are full of earnestness and heartfelt honesty. 


Eyre paces the piece well but the play drags on a bit too long in its final moments. Nevertheless, this play is perfect for this moment and displays how infuriating and painfully heartbreaking intergenerational relationships have become as idealism and fear of climate change battle realism and apathetic neglect. How one family--and all families can strive to understand one another, respect one another, forgive one another, and yet fall short. This painful comedy makes every generation feel seen and should not be missed. 


It runs until 15 October.

Review: Matthew Pierce      Photo: Manuel Harlan