A love story for all seasons told with simple charm, and a tribute to the qualities that make us fundamentally decent human beings.
Mid-February is marked on every calendar as the most romantic day of the year. When cupid’s arrow looks for an unwitting target and a match made in heaven becomes a reality. Well that’s the general idea, but isn’t every day St Valentine’s Day? A time to tell to someone how we feel can be today, tomorrow or any day we choose. Well, the excellent Hope Theatre has come up with an antidote to the sentiment and fluff with To have and to hold; a raw, honest and touching play about a couple weathering the storms of life, yet still enduring as a unit.
Gina (Susan Graham) and Dennis (Mark Steere) have been married for over 50 years and have two children Liam and Maddie. Eight months previously Gina had a stroke and is effectively bed bound. With parallel monologues they each tell their story in flashback. From that very first glance to frailty in old age, every major milestone is described in crystal clear detail. Whilst they never directly speak the monologues often fall into ‘call and response’ mode, where Dennis relates an incident then Gina gives her version of events or vice versa.
In the present, we see Dennis as Gina’s primary carer as he wistfully recalls their wedding vows. We suppose Gina is expressing her thoughts from a sharp mind trapped in a broken body. They were never love’s young dream even when they were young. Gina laments missed opportunities and Dennis struggles to recall the peaks in their relationship. But affection remains as the realisation dawns: they need each other. The venue works like a dream with a play made for an intimate setting. Director Finlay Glen makes full use of space and perspective offered by a catwalk style performance area.
To stage this play on St Valentine’s Day is a smart move because it explodes a faded mythology. It tells a real love story that isn’t all hearts and flowers. It’s a genuine snapshot of the lives people lead. A marriage is rarely perfect because we are human and bear the strain of making a relationship work. Mark Bastin’s script is bright, witty and thought provoking. The play connects on a very human level and lands in reality; which is sometimes a long way from the romantic ideal that we imagine. He makes us know and like the characters as people we immediately recognise. With a painfully short two date run now complete this should be a ‘must see’ when it returns for hopefully a longer run.
Writer: Mark Bastin
Director: Finlay Glen
Set & Costume Designer: Ceci Calf
Stage Manager/Lighting & Sound Design: Jasmine Kint
Review by Brian Penn