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Actor Kae Alexander on Gloria and diversity in UK theatre

PUBLISHED: 11:00 27 June 2017

Kae Alexander and Colin Morgan in Gloria at Hampstead Theatre. Picture: Marc Brenner

Kae Alexander and Colin Morgan in Gloria at Hampstead Theatre. Picture: Marc Brenner

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Bridget Galton talks to Kae Alexander about her latest role in a satire on workplace warfare showing at the Hampstead Theatre

Kae Alexander and Colin Morgan in Gloria at Hampstead Theatre. Picture: Marc BrennerKae Alexander and Colin Morgan in Gloria at Hampstead Theatre. Picture: Marc Brenner

The term killer ambition hardly does justice to Branden Jacobs-Jenkin’s Pulitzer Prize nominated take on toxic office warfare.

Based on his experience at the New Yorker, Gloria is set amid the combustible atmosphere of cut-throat editorial assistants working for an under fire magazine.

When the office freak ‘goes postal’ it spotlights the success-at-any-cost culture of fear and loathing amid the cubicles.

Kae Alexander plays Kendra; “a super intelligent, outspoken, self-confident, ambitious, competitive Asian American”.

She praises Jacobs-Jenkins for writing an “accurate representation of how we live now in all its layers of complexity.”

“I got the script and it just leapt out at me,” says the Guildhall trained actress who was born in Japan before moving to the UK aged 10.

Sian Clifford and Kae Alexandra in Gloria at Hampstead Theatre. Picture: Marc BrennerSian Clifford and Kae Alexandra in Gloria at Hampstead Theatre. Picture: Marc Brenner

“It needs to be read aloud, it’s such a visceral current play that represents the dynamic of how people interact with each other in offices. It’s about competition, ruthlessness, how far you take your ambition and that desire to make it by the time you are 30.

“The publishing world is clashing with the Internet and like a lot of industries is changing – there are a lot of disappointments and Kendra’s one of the smart ones who realises there’s a crisis.”

Alexander says Jacobs-Jenkins has captured life in a global city.

“You can really breathe in this atmosphere of a pressure cooker about to explode with these ambitious people mixing together competing over who’s better at their job.”

It seems American writer Jacobs-Jenkins is the man of the moment, with his play Octoroon running at the Orange Tree Theatre until July 1, hailed by critics as a “playful and deeply serious, dazzling, bold, fearless provocative” dissection of racial representation.

Alexander’s previous roles include a child of the forest in Game of Thrones (“my make-up took 10 hours each time and won an EMMY”), Fleabag, and Bad Education. She’s set to appear in Stephen Spielberg’s Ready Player One. “It was a magical experience, He’s my childhood hero, every story I watched growing up was made by him.”

Kae Alexander and Ellie Kendrick in Gloria at Hampstead Theatre. Picture: Marc BrennerKae Alexander and Ellie Kendrick in Gloria at Hampstead Theatre. Picture: Marc Brenner

Out later this year, BBC and Netflix crime thriller Collateral is penned by Hampstead writer David Hare. Alexander plays a Vietnamese immigrant, the only witness to a fatal shooting, who later falls in love with Nicola Walker’s vicar.

“It’s about politics and religion, crime and immigration,” she says. “It’s a very complicated dynamic with a fantastic cast including Carey Mulligan and Billie Piper.”

This month she’s been shooting cop drama Hard Sun also for the BBC, an “edgy thriller” penned by Luther writer Neil Cross.

It follows two detectives, one corrupt, one straight in contemporary London who have to work together to enforce the law in a world that’s slipping closer to Armageddon. “It’s a detective story mixed with pre apocalyptic overtones it’s darker and more violent,” she says adding that filming on London streets in the wake of the London Bridge attacks was tricky.

“The issue of filming something that reflects the violence in London at the moment ..well it’s not the best time.”

Raised in Finchley, Alexander puts her growing career down to “sheer hard work that has allowed me to get into the right rooms and read the right scripts”.

Like fellow BAME actors she agrees it’s often “more exciting to get American scripts”.

“They are more ahead in terms of diversity. Brandon is writing exactly what he observed and experienced and a play that’s a lot more diverse like this is important. To say ‘Hey Guys, this is the reality’. I’m grateful he has written a part like Kendra. It’s how it should be and it makes a difference.”

When Regent’s Park Open Air theatre director Timothy Sheader cast her as Wendy in Peter Pan last year, she adds: “My friend told me a little Asian girl in the audience was looking at you intently and it made me cry,”

“My aim is to see beyond colour in the future but for now we need to look at the way we tell stories - that starts with school productions and early storytelling.”

Gloria is at Hampstead Theatre until July 22.

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