Last Updated on 13th November 2023
Stephen James reviews Richard Bean’s enjoyable new comedy, To Have and To Hold, at Hampstead Theatre in London
To Have and To Hold
Hampstead Theatre, London
Anyone who has been involved in caring for elderly parents is likely to find much to recognise in Richard Bean’s new bitter-sweet comedy, To Have and To Hold. It sees middle-aged siblings Rob and Tina return home to Wetwang in East Yorkshire to visit their ageing mum and dad, Flo and 91-year-old Jack, a former policeman.
Much of the comedy arises out of the generational divide, from the challenges of new technology to the differences in attitude between a couple who remain rooted in their community and their well-travelled cosmopolitan grown-up children. It is charming and often delightful, especially in the banter between Flo and Jack who have been married for nearly 70 years, but aside from a slight plot line around an anomaly in a bank statement, it is more of an extended sketch about ageing, families and marriage.
It benefits from a charming, mesmerising performance from Alun Armstrong as Jack, weak on his legs but sharp and caustically funny, which is at the heart of this entertaining and touching comedy. Marion Bailey is excellent as Flo, with her idiosyncratic habits and amusing bickering with Jack. They are well supported by Christopher Fulford and Hermione Gulliford as their children plus Rachel Dale as cousin Pamela and Adrian Hood as family friend “Rhubarb Eddie”.
The play raises issues around care and support for older people, particularly at a time when younger generations are more mobile and likely to live far away from where they grew up. It also reminds us of the unrecorded memories and oral histories that are often lost, weaving in Jack’s riveting tales of his time in the police force. But its treatment of these topics is light and goes no deeper than the familiar chatter between parents and children. Directed by Richard Wilson and Terry Johnson, To Have and To Hold is enjoyable and well-crafted, with some arresting storytelling, making up for its lightness of touch and narrative.
Running at Hampstead Theatre in London to 25 November 2023.