The arrival of The Feast of Snails should have been doubly welcome -
both as a brand-new play by a new author on Shaftesbury Avenue and also in
marking the return to the British stage, after a 30-year-absence, of the
1960s RSC star David Warner. In fact, the promised dramatic feast quickly
turns out to be a famine. If Warner has finally gotten over the
well-documented stage fright that has kept him away from the theatre for so
long, this play, however, is enough to induce a fear of going to see an
untried play ever again on West End audiences.
There's also a palpable sense of déjà vu hanging over it all. Not since
another film star, Donald Sutherland, made a rare return to the London stage
in Enigmatic Variations two summers ago, has such a stiltedly lame
and similarly sinister vehicle been foisted upon us. In that one act,
90-minute drama, set on a remote island off Norway, we observed a
confrontation between an eccentric loner (a celebrated author) and an
The Feast of Snails is an overcooked, under-nourished repeat of the
same formula. Likewise presented in one act and 100 minute (a virtue only
in as much as it prevents the audience's escape in the interval), this time
the setting is Iceland, and - guess what? - we're again witness to a
confrontation between an eccentric loner (a rich businessman) and a visitor
who knocks at the door and is suddenly invited to dinner.
The unwitting host, Karl Johnson (Warner), is a member of a Parisian
gastronomic society, and implausibly partakes of their festivities by
arranging for his cook and maid (respectively Sorcha Cusack and Siwan
Morris) to serve him the identical meal they are eating there while he's at
home alone. Except not tonight. When a primary school teacher, David Paulsen
(Philip Glenister), whom he doesn't think he knows, unexpectedly arrives,
the visitor is yet more implausibly invited to join him.
As the pair tuck into a feast of snails of various nationalities, including the
highly suspect Icelandic variety which might be poisonous but are
alternately described as being "as lazy as country priests", the play is
even lazier in its exposition and dramatic tension, not to mention stage
management. Several of the courses are barely touched. (Quite what the poor
actors are eating when they do is another question that need not detain us
here, but contemplating the answer is about as exciting as the evening
Warner, a suavely accomplished actor with the authority and vocal
inflections of a low-budget Ian McKellen, diligently gives it all he's worth.
Olaf Olafsson's play, however, is a non-starter, and under the static
direction of Ron Daniels, utterly fails to ignite.