Is Richard Bean's new comedy To Have and To Hold at the Hampstead Theatre as funny as One Man, Two Guv'nors? Comparison, when you've had such a big hit, is inevitable.
This has a very different setting; it's loosely based on his own family and centres on nonagenarians Jack (Alun Armstrong) and Flo (Marion Bailey).
They are getting to the point where living independently in their Humberside village of Wetwang is more tricky. Retired policeman Jack isn't very mobile and no longer drives, and Flo's eyesight and memory aren't great.
The couple rely on 'Rhubarb Eddie' (Adrian Hood) and Pamela (Rachel Dale) for shopping and help around the house and garden. Jack and Flo have been married for 70 years, and while parts of them might not work as well as they used to, they are still sharp enough mentally to bicker and argue constantly.
Grown-up children Rob (Christopher Fulford) and Tina (Hermione Gulliford) have taken time out from their busy lives and jobs to visit and try and sort out their situation.
Rob is a successful writer based in London and LA and wants to capture some of his Dad's police capers while he is still around. Tina wants them to come and live with her. But while visiting, they start to suspect their parents may be victims of fraud.
This isn't a play about resistance to change, as the synopsis might suggest, as neither Jack nor Flo seem particularly attached to Wetwang and are conscious of how isolated they are now that driving isn't an option.
Neither is it really about a long-lasting marriage, despite its title. Jack and Florence's constant jibes at each other don't go anywhere, and there is no real revelation.
Instead, it feels more about the relationship between parents and children who've 'got on' and moved away. Scattered families and a world that increasingly relies on digital connectivity combine to make Jack and Flo vulnerable and disconnected.
But To Have and To Hold doesn't really play for depth. The plot feels slim, it's a lightweight frame from which to hang jokes and some set storytelling pieces.
It starts at a good, humourous pace, but some of the running gags wear thin, and there are times when you can guess the almost groan-inducing punch line before it is delivered.
There is a smattering of sparky one-liners which did land, but it isn't consistently funny in the way that One Man, Two Guv'nors was.
That play had the benefit of physical humour and farcical elements; To Have and Hold relies on chairs: A recliner and a Stannah chair lift. Neither is enough to deliver the same rib-tickling.
It has its moments, but not enough. I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️.
To Have and To Hold, Hampstead Theatre
Written by Richard Bean
Directed by Richard Wilson and Terry Johnson
Starring Alun Armstrong and Marion Bailey
Running time: 2 hours and 20, including an interval.
Booking until 25 November. For more information and tickets, visit Hampstead Theatre's website.
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