An egotistical Government medical adviser, a dysfunctional family party, and secrets waiting to be revealed.

That's the set up for veteran director Richard Eyre's debut play at Hampstead Theatre.

The Snail House stars Vincent Franklin as Sir Neil Marriott, who became familiar to millions as a paediatric expert during the pandemic, and is now rewarding himself with a lavish birthday celebration - complete with Champagne and silver service.

But his family are at each other's throats, and one of the caterers - who lay up a dinner for 18 before the audience's eyes - is unsettlingly familiar.

Franklin himself is familiar to many from TV roles such as Happy Valley, Gentleman Jack, The Thick of It and Cucumber.

"Richard's written a heartfelt, gut-wrenching family drama that is also at times hysterically funny," he says. "I think if you sit through a play and there's not a single laugh, it doesn't reflect life as it is.

"This is a man who is desperate to celebrate his success. It's a dinner party with huge pressure on it. We see it built, which is a piece of theatre in itself, and destroyed."

Despite the post-Pandemic setting, Marriott is no thinly veiled Chris Whitty or Jonathan Van-Tam.

"He's in no sense based on anyone you would recognise. He advised the government during the pandemic on the impact on child health, but the play is not about the pandemic, it's about a man who has come to believe the myth of himself, and the impact that has on his wife and children.

"He's a great doctor but he's become too confident, too believing in his undoubtedly extraordinary abilities. Where does having a great opinion of yourself result in you not listening not compromising?

"You can see its line of heritage from Inspector Calls through to All My Sons, a family in which there is a horrendous truth, a mistake has to be revealed, we're interested in the impact on this family of that truth."

Ham & High: The Snail House in rehearsal, Patrick Walshe McBride, Eva Pope, Vincent Franklin and Grace Hogg-RobinsonThe Snail House in rehearsal, Patrick Walshe McBride, Eva Pope, Vincent Franklin and Grace Hogg-Robinson (Image: © Manuel Harlan)

While the caterer's lives seem to be running in parallel, with no connection to the family, he says: "One of the secrets of Neil's past is that his path has crossed before with one of these women."

Eyre ran The National Theatre for a decade, and has previously adapted classic plays and directed films such as Iris, The Children's Act and Notes On A Scandal. But The Snail House is his first full length play.

"It's a proper theatrical play," says Franklin, who met the director while shooting the film of Alan Bennett's Allelujah alongside Judi Dench and Jennifer Saunders last autumn.

"He's the nicest, most collaborative man in British theatre," praises Franklin. "Within ten minutes of meeting him on Allelujah you think he his your uncle. On this he is still collaborating and tweaking.

Ham & High: Richard Eyre directs his own play The Snail House at Hampstead TheatreRichard Eyre directs his own play The Snail House at Hampstead Theatre (Image: © Manuel Harlan)

"What Richard does so brilliantly is you will recognise characters, then he reveals a new thing about them, and you have to reassess them. The play is packed with ideas and concerns, relationships and values of the kind that have been deeply formed. It's two hours long and will make you laugh and cry."

Although Franklin started off interested in stand up, after training at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School he enjoyed a spell in theatre before a sustained screen career working with the likes of Mike Leigh, Sally Wainwright, Armando Iannucci and Russell T Davies.

He jokes that a brief scene in The Office started a trend to become "someone who does those shows where it looks like they are making it up but you have to do it without looking like you think it's funny."

Whether playing a Tory Party spin doctor, a commitment phobic gay man, or a Detective Superintendent, he's fortunate to have worked with "extraordinary writers and auteurs."

"I certainly am lucky considering I look like the fourth person in a group of friends, and the least important one."

Now living in St Alban's, the Yorkshire-born actor, says working with Wainwright saw him "properly getting back to my northern roots."

His next project is a sit-com that's still under wraps, but he's "still hoping the BBC will find someone to continue Gentleman Jack."

"Suranne (Jones) is extraordinary, and I loved playing that villainous arsehole."

The Snail House runs at Hampstead Theatre from September 7 to October 15.