There's a poignant performance by Alun Armstrong at the heart of Richard Bean's possibly semi-autobiographical comedy, about middle-aged children wrangling their ageing parents.

Co-directed by Terry Johnson and that televisual curmudgeon Richard Wilson, To Have and To Hold centres on cranky ex copper Jack (Armstrong) who both sadly and amusingly articulates the trials and despair of extreme old age.

At 91, he can't walk, drive a car, or even open a jar, and all his work mates, friends and siblings are dead.Ham & High: Adrian Hood as Rhubarb Eddie and Marion Bailey as Florence in To Have and To HoldAdrian Hood as Rhubarb Eddie and Marion Bailey as Florence in To Have and To Hold (Image: Marc Brenner)

But amid enjoyable marital bickering with Marion Bailey's overly sprightly Florence, and entertaining interludes where we hear Jack's stories about long-solved cases, Bean's rather restrained comedy never quite fires into life.

A half-baked plotline about sharp-eyed cousin Pam (Rachel Dale) and hulking gardener 'rhubarb Eddie (Adrian Hood) possibly ripping the couple off, is resolved too quickly.

And their adult children; crime writer Rob (Christopher Fulford) and private healthcare manager Tina (Hermione Gulliford) are underwritten and unsympathetic.Ham & High: Christopher Fulford as Rob and Alun Armstrong as JackChristopher Fulford as Rob and Alun Armstrong as Jack (Image: Marc Brenner)

Education has enabled them to flee the dated 80s furniture and knick-knackery of Jack and Flo's home in Wetwang, Yorkshire - a fabulously detailed set by James Cotterill complete with sliding kitchen hatch used to punctuate the couple's squabbles.

Steeped in modern (Southern) materialistic ways, Rob and Tina don't visit often enough and are out of place in their parents' world, but as Bean's paean to the past suggests, they've lost roots and community along the way.

There's some mildly farcical business with a locked door, and sideswipes about digital exclusion, instant coffee, and electric cars, but it's not sharp enough to be satirical.Ham & High: Alun Armstrong as Jack in To Have and To HoldAlun Armstrong as Jack in To Have and To Hold (Image: Marc Brenner)

Best then to sit back and enjoy Bean's authentic, seemingly freeform dialogue, between two people who have been married for seven decades, and the impeccable comic timing of Armstrong and Bailey.

He gets the lion's share, but she holds her own, and on the rare occasion when the bickering gives way to tenderness, they make it count.

By the end, the over-riding emotion is of sorrow; at lives - and a way of life - that have passed.

To Have And To Hold runs at Hampstead Theatre until November 25.