To Have and To Hold

Richard Bean
Hampstead Theatre
Hampstead Theatre

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Marion Bailey as Florence and Alun Armstrong as Jack Credit: Marc Brenner
Christopher Fulford as Bob, Marion Bailey as Florence and Hermione Gulliford as Tina Credit: Marc Brenner
Adrian Hood as Eddie and Marion Bailey as Florence Credit: Marc Brenner
Marion Bailey as Florence, Christopher Fulford as Bob and Alun Armstrong as Jack Credit: Marc Brenner
Marion Bailey as Florence and Rachel Dale as Pamela Credit: Marc Brenner
Alun Armstrong as Jack Credit: Marc Brenner

Richard Bean’s new play signals itself from the start as a comedy, with Marion Bailey as 90-year-old Florence Kirk, with one hand balancing a cup of tea and the other trying to control the stairlift which is halted halfway down as someone persists in pressing the doorbell while her husband is yelling down from upstairs.

Marion Bailey is paired with Alun Armstrong as her 91-year-old husband Jack, and their bickering togetherness, based on 70 years of familiarity and co-dependence, is rooted in a reality which you don’t have to be geriatric to recognise. This is a comedy that is also a picture of the problems now faced by the elderly as they find themselves now unable to drive but ill-served by local transport, with corner stores closed as shopping moves to big supermarkets or online, banks shutting branches, friends and neighbours replaced by strangers and their children living lives perhaps half a world away.

Working class Jack Kirk was a copper. He and Flo did the best for their children. They went to university and they have done well for themselves. Robert (Christopher Fulford) has become a writer of crime stories and film scripts based in London and Los Angeles. Tina (Hermione Gulliford) runs a chain of private doctor practices. They aren’t youngsters and rarely make it to the cul-de-sac where their parents live in the village of Wetwang (it’s a real place in West Yorkshire).

Fortunately, there’s been local help from cousin Pamela (Rachel Dale), whose work brings her into the area, and neighbour “Rhubarb” Eddie, who has taken over Jack’s allotment and provides social contact and an audience for Jack’s real crime memories as well as rhubarb: Adrian Hood’s formidable figure and the simple manner he gives Eddie ensure he provides more comic relief.

Tina and Bob have been summoned now to be told about wills and to sort out Power of Attorney. They aren’t uncaring, they just too far away. The script doesn’t tell much about them but the actors successfully imply close family feeling.

Geriatric problems become an undercurrent that feeds rather than halts the humour, but though there are a lot of laughs, this isn’t rip-roaring comedy, nor does it have much plot. What there is exploits another growing problem. Someone seems to have hacked Jack and Flo’s joint bank account. Suspicion seem to point one way.

To Have and To Hold reruns the bickering of generational comedies from the Garnetts to the Royles but does so lovingly. Some of the true crime tales come from Bean’s father’s own police career. Richard Wilson and Terry Johnson’s production makes them almost a standalone feature, and Alun Armstrong delivers them delightfully.

If this doesn’t keep you laughing all evening, it isn’t because it has been done before but, in a time when so many in the audience have elderly parents or are themselves increasingly infirm, it is just too close to home, it is too often too accurate; despite its contrivances, be prepared to laugh at yourselves.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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