First Night: Epic voyage into toilet humour

Holy Mothers Ambassadors Theatre London

BEATIFIC VISIONS of the Blessed Virgin, blocked lavatories and a last-minute beheading are among the items on the menu in Holy Mothers, a hilarious extravaganza of epic bad taste by the late Werner Schwab, Austria's extremist answer to Joe Orton and Alan Bennett.

If your idea of a good night out is listening to three old women natter away about poo and related matter(s), then this is just the play for you. "So many times I've asked myself, why does mankind have to have a bum," muses Valerie Lilley's lugubrious Erna, who has pious designs on the God-fearing, teetotal butcher.

All peroxide beehives, bangles and bored superiority, Paola Dionisotti's deliciously funny superannuated sexpot of a Grete can just about face faeces, particularly those of her beloved dachshund, Lydia ("I always know exactly what she's eaten").

But Linda Dobell's retarded Mariedl, grotesquely decked out in girlish stripy dress and bunches, wins hands down on the laurels of the lavatory. She has an unbeatable ability to unbung blocked loos without the aid of rubber gloves.

The play itself dispenses with hygienic protection as it rams an arm into some mucky corners of Austrian life. Schwab has a keen nose for a whiff of closet Nazis and the first trick-ending leaves two of the characters with the prospect of that "body buried in the cellar", which is supposed to symbolise a furtively guilty society.

Wittily designed by Stewart Laing, and entertainingly produced by Richard Jones, this trip around the U-bend of Schwab's fertile imagination is a splendidly imaginative start to Sonia Friedman's regime at the Ambassadors.

Paul Taylor

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