What man in his right mind would want to live with his mother-in-law – particularly when she looks like EastEnders’ Dot Cotton and has the venomous tongue of Corrie’s Blanch Hunt?
That poor sod would be David, by coincidence played by former Street star Steven Arnold, in Joe Wenborne’s Broken Strings, which opened at London’s Tabard Theatre this week.
I think the closest Arnold, as Ashley Peacock, got to a tongue-lashing in Corrie was when the chops weren’t up to par in Fred Elliott’s butcher’s shop.
But here he is in the firing line for a hurricane force deluge of bile from mother-in-law, Rose (and we know her name’s Rose because it is included in almost every line of dialogue spoken by David – it drives you mad after a while). The only escape is into a bottle of Scotch.
Wenborne, who also directs Broken Strings, has written from the heart, basing the two-hander on his own experiences of when his mother came to stay following the death of his dad.
The drama opens on the day of the funeral of Susan, David’s wife and Rose’s daughter, and, over the course of 95 minutes – we see how two bereaved and lost souls come to terms with losing the woman that they loved.
You can guess that it’s not a barrel of laughs but both Linda Clark, as the elderly, cantankerous, and thoroughly disagreeable Rose, and Arnold, give outstanding performances as they struggle to cope with life after death.
What let’s the story down, I’m sorry to say, is Wenborne’s clunky, clichéd, second-hand dialogue which seems gleaned from every kitchen sink drama ever written.
Despite this Broken Strings is worth seeing for the performances alone. Rose, wearing the most atrocious wig, is almost blind and walks with a stick. She moved in with Susan and David so that the couple could look after her in her dotage.
But, well we mothers are all the same. Nothing and no-one is good enough for our daughters. David had a mountain to climb after first meeting Susan in an Essex nightclub.
Rose criticises, lambasts, castigates and finds fault. Nothing David does is good enough and she makes her sour, disapproving opinions perfectly clear.
Now that Susan is gone. What should he do? Ask the old buzzard to leave, put her in a home, or try to make the best of things?
“She ‘ates me!” wails David and, later, during a heated row, he screams: “You’re a wicked old cow! What man in his right mind would want his mother-in-law living with him!”
Everyone tells David that time is a healer. It’s not. As time goes by his aching loneliness gets worse. He drinks every night to dull the pain and, when he loses his job, the future looks bleaker than ever.
What finally sparks the healing process is a fart, an unexpected laugh, and Moonlight Serenade.
Linda Clark is superb as the testy Rose whose bark is worse than her bite. She’s terrified about what’s going to happen to her now that her daughter has gone. She’s on auto-pilot, so used to a lifetime of dissatisfaction, that she’s unable to say anything sympathetic to the distraught David.
Steven Arnold’s devastated David can’t see a future. All he has is his mother-in-law – 24/7.
Broken Strings runs at the Tabard Theatre until September 24.
Broken Strings is a moving drama with remarkable and heart-rending turns by Steven Arnold and Linda Clark.