To Have and To Hold

Reviewer's rating

This production of Richard Bean’s well crafted drama is as entertaining as it is thought-provoking. It is shot through with flashes of dark humour. To Have and to Hold is a microcosm of social domestic interaction, of the reality of elderly parents and middle-aged children who live away from each other. It depicts a society where the daily care of parents is entrusted into the hands of friends and neighbours rather than children. But despite its inevitably fraught subject matter, the play is not depressing, nor does it make for uncomfortable viewing. The narrative is overall dynamic and funny, while affording a kaleidoscope of six different, instantly recognisable characters.

Jack (Alun Armstrong) and Florence Kirk (Marion Bailey), 90 and 91 years old, live in Wetwang, Yorkshire. On this rare occasion, they are visited, at the behest of Jack, by their children, Rob (Christopher Fulford) and Tina (Hermione Gulliford). Rob leads a busy life in London and L.A. writing popular detective stories. His sister Tina is a successful healthcare manager who also lives a good distance from her parents.

The chasm between these two generations is comically flagged by technology:  Jack asked a workman to pay a pound for electricity for charging his mobile phone. And then his daughter Tina charges her Tesla and Rob his mobile and laptop.

Jack and Florence have no internet. They cannot manage internet banking. Visa card is given to Eddie (Adrian Hood),  and bank details to Pamela (Rachel Dale). Both help with shopping and visit the old couple.

This is a play about neglect, familiarity and filial love and guilt. It is also about detective stories. Jack is a retired detective who loves to tell and record his old stories on an old Sony cassette player. Rob writes detective stories for a living. The metaplot is also a detective story. Someone is stealing from the senior Kirks. Which of their good Samaritan visitors is the culprit? A down-to-earth bloke, both coarse and caring Rhubarb Eddie, or busybody Pam?

The best performance is delivered by Armstrong, who at times cantankerous yet tender and wise Jack. He is the fulcrum of this drama with the best lines. Bailey’s Florence is excellent at times. She manages to convey much of the 90-year-old woman in the early stages of dementia, flip-flopping between clarity and confusion, kindness and aggression towards her lifelong partner.

The performances from Fulford as Rob and Gulliford’s Tina are fine.  Fulford’s Robert is engaging and often finely attuned to his role. Hermione Gulliford’s Tina is a confident, savvy female, dresses casual-elegant, and cares for her ailing parents in a matter-of-fact manner. Yet, there is a sense that their characters are not well drawn. Or,  they may be conveying a degree of discomfort at their place of birth. It is very likely that Bean concentrated on the parents and sketched the other characters.

This production has heart and the audience cares. On more than one occasion, the auditorium fills with gasps

The set and costume design are cleverly arranged and chosen by James Cotterill.

Richard Wilson’s and Terry Johnson’s sure-footed direction generates humour from gestures as well as dialogues.

To Have and to Hold is well worth seeing.