Theatre Review: Flushed with success

New European Writers

Royal Court, London

A rehearsed reading might seem the most modest form of theatrical life. Director Lindsay Posner and his sublime cast of Liz Smith, Fred Dowie and Eleanor Bron put paid to that prejudice in their (tragically) one- off reading on Wednesday of Werner Schwab's Holy Mothers. Presented in a hilarious translation by Meredith Oakes, this extravaganza of epic bad taste left a minority in the audience rigid with po-faced prudery and the rest of us aching with both laughter and an acute desire to hear/see more of the dramatic legacy of the Austrian Schwab, who died, aged 36, in 1994.

Trying to name the nearest British equivalent of a foreign writer can be as philistine a business as twinning towns. But, apart from Thomas Bernhard, whose exhilarating relentlessness and red-alert nose for closet Nazis are often recalled here, the Brits you're most reminded of are Joe Orton and Alan Bennett. Schwab's trio of old women (all, I think, cleaners) have a similar way of applying genteel language to pre-occupations that, if not exactly lavatorial, never stray much further afield. Except that here Bennett seems to be performing a tango with Rabelais at his most mock heroically cloacal.

With her matchless talent for the kind of comic subversion that bides its time behind a front of simple-minded near-senility, Liz Smith plays the Boadicea of the blocked toilet, a doughty battler against what you might call the Turd Reich. Never happier than when plunging an ungloved arm into the bunged-up bends of the privileged ("Once you've reached down a toilet bowl, soon you are not afraid, and then it's just the same as reaching out to shake someone's hand"), this devout Christian is a legend in her own loo-time. Or so she'd like to think. Switching into interwoven third-person narratives, the play shows how all three women rise above their constricted lives in fantasies of cleansed acceptance (a roguishly grateful populace supposedly plants presents of a tin of goulash and bottles of beer and perfume for Smith's character to fish out of three fetid loos). It ends in potty (if that's the word) floating apotheosis, mayhem and slit throats. You'll never hear anything like this again, more's the pity.

As a curtain-raiser for the full production of Dea Loher's much more serious-minded Stranger's House, Holy Mothers turned out to be a bit of a thunder-stealer. It says a lot for the musicality of tempo and the brooding power of Mary Peate's austere staging that it managed to conquer a by now quite giddy audience. I will write more about Loher's play next week.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

    Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

    £22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

    SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

    £1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

    Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

    £32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam