Writer andDirector:Joe Wenborne
Reviewer: Andy Moseley
Broken Stringsis inspired by a four-year period where writer and director Joe Wenborne’s mother lived with him and his wife. The play adapts this so that the mother becomes the mother-in-law, and the wife has died, leaving a death bed wish to ‘take care of Mum, promise me you won’t put her in a home.’ David, the husband, duly does this, in spite of the fact that neither he or his mother-in-law Rose, seem to want to live in the same house as each other. They are together not because of their shared grief, but because the alternative is that Rose goes into care. This is one of the many problems with a play that falls short on almost every level.
Wenborne hasn’t inhabited the new situation he’s created. The daughter’s death feels grafted on, a vehicle for a play about a man and mother-in-law sharing a house, rather than the event that is running through the heart of the play, driving the action.
After a promising opening scene, where the two return from the funeral, and their conversation shows that, in tragedy, day-to-day irritants such as which mourners weren’t wearing black, and who had too much of an eye on the drink, can be both annoying and a welcome distraction, the play struggles to remember that it’s about death rather than two unlikely people living together.
David – played by Steven Arnold – has a lengthy moment when he talks to the photo of his wife, and there is some sense of what he is coming to terms with, but somewhere during this, the development of emotions cease and turn into a more simplistic anger. From then on, the responses to the daughter’s death, when they come, feel artificial, and shoe-horned in, with clichéd responses substituted for any personal growth and discovery.
The antagonism between the son and mother-in-law also feels false, like it has been bolted on to a retelling of the story of two people who actually liked each other. With so little to play off it is little wonder the actors struggle to convey the emotions and feelings associated with the loss of a wife or daughter. For Linda Clark, as Rose, the few moments where she can connect with the situation are lost, swamped by the everyday gripes and moans that take up the rest of her time. This would not be such a problem if we saw Arnold struggling to cope with keeping up his promise to his wife in the face of the reality of the situation, but we don’t. It doesn’t get harder for him to live with her, it doesn’t get easier. It stays the same. As a result, the ending feels rushed, a sudden burst of character and plot development with no sense of a gradual progression to the final conclusion.
There are some other good moments, mostly in the monologues, but it’s noticeable that the most effective of these, where Rose reflects on jitterbugging and bombs during the war, is almost completely unconnected to the main story. It is part of the mother’s life, not the daughter’s. This is the main problem with the entire play. The premise is two people forced to share a house after a third person’s death, but the dead person is peripheral, her role in the situation is not explored, the effect of her death is little more than stock phrases stitched together and neither actor sounds as if they are living with the loss even when they speak them.
Runs until 24 September 2016 | Image: Contributed
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