WRITER: RICHARD BEAN CO- DIRECTORS: RICHARD WILSON AND TERRY JOHNSON
CAST: ALUN ARMSTRONG; MARION BAILEY; CHRISTOPHER FULFORD; HERMIONE GULLIFORD; RACHEL DALE; ADRIAN HOOD
HAMPSTEAD THEATRE, ETON AVENUE, LONDON NW3 3EU
THURSDAY 26 OCTOBER UNTIL SATURDAY 25 NOVEMBER
RUNNING TIME: 2 HOURS 2O MINS WITH INTERVAL
Marion Bailey; Christopher Fulford and Hermione Gulliford; Alan Armstrong
(Photos: Marc Brenner)
REVIEW by KATHLEEN BONDAR
With its creative team comprising of writer Richard Bean (Toast, In the Club and One Man, Two Guvnors) plus co-directors Richard Wilson (Merlin and One Foot in the Grave) and Terry Johnson (Tony Award Best Director of a Musical 2010) it is little wonder To Have and To Hold is a finely tuned, if somewhat dated, play. Credits for all concerned are as long as your arm (it may come as some surprise to sitcom fans that Richard Wilson has as many directing credits as acting). As for the actors in To Have and To Hold, they are a pretty illustrious crew too with Alun Armstrong (New Tricks, Sweeney Todd) as the sardonic ex-cop Jack Kirk and Marion Bailey (Mr Turner; The Crown) as his quipping wife Florence. Both take lead roles as a comfortably bickering, married couple in their nineties from Yorkshire.
Then there is the Kirk’s high achieving, middle-aged children visiting once in a blue moon. Christopher Fulford (Loot; Screw) plays Rob, a successful crime author now living in Muswell Hill and Hermione Gulliford (The Southbury Child; Romeo & Juliet, Globe) Tina, a private practice manager. Together with supporting actors Rachel Dale and Adrian Hood as local stalwarts who help the olds out in the absence of Jack and Florence’s children, the scene is set for the unravelling of family dynamics. For a sub-plot someone is syphoning two hundred quid a month from the Kirk’s joint bank account. Both trustingly hand out debit cards and pins because they can’t get to the bank themselves (that such gullibility is a bit out of character for a retired police officer is curiously side stepped).
Adrian Hood and Marion Bailey; Marion Bailey and Alun Armstrong; Marion Bailey and Rachel Dale (Photos: Marc Brenner)
Adjectives, synonyms and jokes to do with “old” saturate the play. The entire play feels pickled in pre-millennial brine. Excepting Tina’s electric car there is barely a hint of the contemporary. To be honest, To Have and To Hold comes across as a traditional sitcom, with gag after punch line, opening music for each scene (rather like The Good Life) and a dated brown and beige living room (with a settee and serving hatch from Last of the Summer Wine). As if to underscore the ancient, it’s heavily reliant on Yorkshire archetypes from back in the day.
Understandably, the themes of elderly exploitation, aging, ill-health and dependency saturate the play. There are some tender moments which do more than just pull at the heart strings. Jack’s soliloquy that he can barely walk and no longer pick his wife up if she falls is sobering. Aging is a difficult thing and the impact on the body and mind is frankly tough and to its credit, To Have and To Hold puts this centre stage with affect from a skilled cast and crew.