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Holy Mothers

By • West End
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Holy Mothers at the New Ambassadors

As soon as the curtain lifts on Werner Schwab's Holy Mothers, and you're confronted with the bizarre sight of three eccentrically-dressed old biddies in a kitsch kitchen, you just know you're in for an evening of unsettling entertainment.

There's just no way this is going to be a collection of cosy Alan Bennett-style monologues by a bunch of oldies - prurient Grete (Paola Dionisotti), geeky Mariedl (Linda Dobell) and edgy Erne (Valerie Lilley) are way too weird for that. No, these little ladies have other, more colourful things to discuss, namely the mysteries of sex, liver wurst and the toilet bowl. Schwab's off-the-wall visuals and left-field dialogue point up the bleakness of the inner-city surroundings and the banality of the trio's existence (heightened by Stewart Laing's claustrophobic, low-ceilinged set and Pat Collins's fluorescent strip-lighting).

Despite trying to 'steer a proper course through life' their dreams have foundered: Erne's nasty son Herman 'refuses to have intercourse' and provide her with a grandchild, and Grete's husband has run off with an 18 year-old oriental girl. Now the only escapism left consists of watching the Pope on the telly and collectively fantasising about a better life. Thus ex-cleaner Erne, resplendent in grotesque fur hat, tells us she wants to be swept off her feet by the local sausage merchant. Heavily-made up Grete desires to be groped by a hulking brute at a beerfest. And as for Mariedl, well she's a strange girl who likes to indulge in a spot of coprophilia.

There are surprises aplenty in Holy Mothers, not least when the usually shy Mariedl skewers the other pair's fantasies, and brings them to earth with a crash. This leaves the way open for a climax straight out of Grand Guignol.

Holy Mothers, translated here by Meredith Oakes has reached our shores via a successful run in Germany. I can only assume they have more of an appetite for scatological drama over there, because here I can't imagine the play will ever come across as anything more than a curiosity piece. Still, Schwab has definitely written one to remember. The graphic descriptions of human excrement, plus the oddball performances director Richard Jones brings out of his cast will see to that. For once they left me almost too queasy to enjoy my usual post-theatre supper.

Holy Mothers runs at the Ambassadors from 1 June to 3 July.

Richard Forrest.


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