Broken Strings is a snapshot of domestic life, tainted with the aftermath of the death of a loved one. Joe Wenborne’s story is inspired by his own experience of caring for and living with his mother in her later years with his wife. He wondered how his mother and wife would get on if anything should ever happen to him, and thus Broken Strings was born. The play centres on David (Steven Arnold), a man who whose wife Susan has recently died, and his mother-in-law Rose (Linda Clark), a widow herself. On a homely set of pale beiges and muted olive – cosy but bland – we watch as they struggle to cohabitate in the wake of Susan’s passing.
The play doesn’t seem to know quite where to land as it flits between moments of loud, fiery dialogue between the pair and quiet moments of attempted sincerity. What Broken Strings does well is to honestly and authentically vocalise grief. In the first scene, Rose vents her frustration and cries ‘I want to explode’, while a scene later David describes walking up the stairs as ‘climbing a wooden hill’. It is in these moments that Wenborne’s writing is raw, real and at its most evocative and enjoyable, followed closely by the humorous moments in the play.
Clark is witty and unapologetically bold as Rose. There is a slight whiff of Catherine Tate’s Nan about her, but that could be due to the cockney accent and permanent scowl that Rose adorns. As a character she is difficult but lovable, and she possesses the stereotypical characteristics that are found in most grandmothers. Arnold spends a lot of the play red-faced from shouting, and his repetitive outbursts eventually begin to come across as insincere and lose their power. The pair are at their best in scenes together as David attempts to sail over her underhanded comments and provide smart quips to her remarks, during which they seem to have temporarily forgotten about their dead wife/daughter. The third character and her death isn’t central to the plot, and at times it is a detail that feels redundant.
As the play ends, two years from where it began, the characters seem to be in the same position. There is little development until the final scenes, and as a result the end feels a little abrupt and perhaps rushed. When the lights go down on the final scene, the playing of the 2008 hit song by James Morrison of the same name as the play felt unnecessary and trite. At times stagnant, Broken Strings tries to present two people, learning about themselves and one another through bereavement. Ultimately it falls a bit short.
Broken Strings is playing at Tabard Theatre until September 24.