Currently showing at The Bread & Roses Theatre, To Have and To Hold is a production focusing on the long-married couple who are reflecting upon their lives and shared experiences. Following a 5-star, sold-out run earlier this year, the piece weaves complexities of love, pain and memory to see what lies beneath it all.
As the writer, there is no better person to ask about the show, and Mark Bastin has kindly answered a few questions to tell us a bit more.
Can you tell us a little about the show?
It’s a show about an older married couple who have been together for over 50 years. We meet Dennis and Gina in the roles of carer and cared-for as they tell us the story of their courtship, wedding and family life in short, interlocking monologues. To Have and To Hold is an intimate show made for a smaller, studio-type space.
How can the concept of a seemingly ordinary couple’s marriage be told as an engaging story?
Well, I think most marriages aren’t always entirely what they seem to the outsider, even those of seemingly ordinary people. As Dennis says at one point in the play “Every marriage is different. Involves different compromises.” A marriage also has its own narrative, which can vary over time for each partner depending on their viewpoint. Part of the play’s appeal, I think, is that the audience gets to hear Dennis’ and Gina’s differing memories of the same experiences throughout their marriage. In that sense To Have and To Hold is a sort of memory play, reflecting on what we choose to remember and why.
How was the writing process and what was the inspiration for this?
I originally wrote a single ‘talking head’ piece narrated by the husband character which I intended to be filmed. The director, Finlay Glen, and I met online on a playwriting course during the second lockdown, and when the course had finished he reached out asking whether I had anything written I’d like to see performed. I sent him the monologue which he liked but felt would be more marketable as a play. I subsequently wrote Gina’s monologue, which poured out of me at the time, and then set about weaving the two characters’ stories together.
The original idea for the play was prompted by a chance conversation a couple of years ago with my partner’s aunt. She was one of three care-givers caring for an elderly woman who was bed-bound and unresponsive. Auntie Barbara remarked on how caring and loving her husband was, which was ironic given how unfaithful she’d been to him when well. This led to me wondering why? Did he love her unconditionally? Or had he finally caught her? Was she finally his and his only to have and to hold? I felt there was definitely a play there.
Described as dark and comedic, how are these factors considered through the piece?
The play’s lighter moments are mostly supplied by Gina, who is tough, emotionally intelligent and full of life, which is ironic given the condition she’s in. Gina’s take on her life is both regretful and accepting, which allows her to be not only sympathetic but occasionally very funny. The darker themes have more to do with Dennis. The play’s director, Finlay Glen, has worked brilliantly with Mark Steere, the actor who plays Dennis, to explore the potentially darker side of being a care-giver. The audience is asked to consider whether Dennis’ care is motivated by unconditional love or, perhaps, by possession and control.
How important is it to have productions created to cast older actors?
In my view, it’s essential and something I feel strongly about. Theatres and producers are rightly seeking to put the under-represented on stage, yet we see few shows where older characters’ stories are told. Theatre should be about, and for, everyone. It’s great that for the future there are lots of shows being produced for younger audiences, but older characters’ stories are just as relevant and shouldn’t be discounted. After all, these are people who have lived and who have years of experience, which in turn can help to create truly layered, nuanced stories for an audience. Interestingly, some of the most positive comments on To Have and To Hold have come from younger audience members, partly because, I think, they’ve rarely seen anything like it.
How do you think the show reflects the concept of marriage?
Ultimately I think it’s optimistic about the institution. Dennis and Gina are two people who married each other for their own reasons. They are both from a generation when staying together was the default, and being married often meant making lots of compromises over a long period of time. Their marriage has at times been challenging and full of difficulties, but in the end they both acknowledge how important they are to each other.
Where do you hope to take the production next?
We’re keen to get the current run finished before thinking too much about that, to be honest. It’s a studio piece which we might take to one of the provincial fringe festivals; Brighton has been mentioned as a possible destination. Otherwise, Finlay and I have a couple of other projects we’re working on through his theatre company New Troubadour. It’s watch this space, I guess!
Thanks very much to Mark for contributing this for us, and I hope this run of the show bring everything you wish from it- all the best!
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Additional thanks to Matthew Parker for coordinating this interview