The Impossibility of Do No Harm
“Google has made everyone into a professor of medicine! “
It all sounded so promising: a senior doctor, who had been in the forefront of the government’s response to Coronavirus, and his family in a celebration of his birthday with an unexpected disclosure in the last act. By a writer and director who had fronted the National Theatre for a decade in the 1980s and 1990s and produced at Hampstead Theatre.
I have long held that authors should not be allowed to direct their own plays. Of course, there are exceptions, but on the whole, another, separate input is a creative blessing that will strengthen the resulting production. This play was badly in need of another creative opinion.
Hampstead had obviously spent money on the set, a huge panelled room in an academic institution with many stucco framed oil portraits of long deceased heads of college. But therein lies the problem: the room was too big for the person to person conversations taking place and much of the first act was taken up in laying out the tables, setting up the chairs, the table covering and cloths, the plates, the glasses, the china, the nightlights and the flowers. This was irrelevant to the action of the play. And some of the second act was the dismantling of these dinner tables.
If only the writer had paid as much attention to characterisation as he did to catering! The man celebrating his birthday is paediatrician Sir Neil Marriot (Vincent Franklin) who has little of interest to say. He has two children, Hugo, a political advisor and gay (Patrick Walshe McBride) and Sarah in her late teens, living in a squat and a climate activist (Grace Hogg-Robinson). Sarah is obviously his favourite but her gift to him of a poster of Greta Thunberg isn’t a good choice. Neil’s wife Val (Eva Pope) hints at his life of philandering.
The other problem is the main thrust of the plot, which demonstrates the arrogance of consultants in their opinion, does not have the shocking impact the play needs. None of the family characters are particularly likeable and Sir Neil seems lacking in charisma. McBride and Hogg-Robinson play their parts really well and I admired Amanda Bright as the catering manager Florence.
My heart bleeds for Hampstead Theatre. I was so excited by Roxana Silbert’s The Haystack at the start of her tenure. I questioned the choice to revive the 25 year old plays which was interrupted by Covid, although I welcomed the revival of Peggy For You. I don’t know who is choosing the plays in the large theatre but the smaller space at Hampstead seems to be more exciting and more successful. I can’t believe that these dud plays are Roxana Silbert’s choice.
The plays may look good on paper. The Forest, a play from the French playwright Florian Zeller who wrote with such power, The Father and The Son and others but that too wasn’t as good as its promise.
There have been too many disappointments. Hampstead Theatre urgently needs to recruit someone who can choose plays that are worth their professional, production efforts.
The Snail House
Written and directed by Richard Eyre
Patrick Walshe McBride
Director: Richard Eyre
Designer: Tim Hatley
Lighting Designer: Hugh Vanstone
Sound Designer: John Leonard
Running Time: Two hours 20 minutes with an interval
Booking to 15th October 2022
London NW3 3EU
Phone: 020 7722 9301
Tube: Swiss Cottage
by Lizzie Loveridge at
on 14th September 2022