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Top Dogs

Urs Widmer
Southwark Playhouse
(2003)

This is a really unusual, experimental play written in 1996, which takes a simple scenario and deconstructs it with tremendous dramatic impact. Swiss playwright Urs Widmer looks at five top executives who have lost their jobs and shows their mental journeys to acceptance of new, much-diminished roles in life.

After a rather limp opening, they are seen in their outplacement centre going through every type of role-play and receiving guidance from the detached Mary Keegan. Their vulnerability soon takes over from pride and bravado and each is seen at their weakest.

The structure, with many rather disjointed short scenes, under Patricia Benecke's clinical direction is always unpredictable. There is comedy, for example when a husband and wife swap roles, apocalyptic vision and six monologues delivered simultaneously that revolve around the theatre, one consisting of nothing more than beautifully expressed numbers.

It is inevitable that a play and production of this type will have some hits and misses but the former greatly predominate. Perhaps the highlight is the mental and physical disintegration of Patrick Driver (the actors and characters have the same names). This is a man who loses everything in a few months, job, wife, home and pride. He becomes a gibbering, scratching wreck apparently fit for nothing more than a zoo or an asylum.

Where Widmer and Benecke really succeed is in capturing, in a believable but often amusing way, much of the pain and the anguish that downsizing causes those that had believed themselves invincible.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher