Gloria, Hampstead Theatre, review: ‘Ruthless ambition and the failings of American society’

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

Colin Morgan in Gloria at Hampstead Theatre. Picture: Marc Brenner - Credit: Archant

“Aren’t you turning thirty any day now? I will die before I turn thirty in a cubicle.”

It’s interesting to be so engaged in a play where none of the characters are likeable, but there’s an acute accuracy to Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ depiction of life in Gloria.

The play begins at a Manhattan magazine, where three editorial assistants and an intern squabble their way through jobs that aren’t delivering the satisfaction they all believe they deserve.

Dean (Colin Morgan) has been on the same desk for five years at the beck and call of his boss. Still clinging to the dream of having a book published, he sacrifices sanity and soberness in favour of networking. It’s not what he envisioned for himself.

As his colleague Kendra puts it: “Aren’t you turning thirty any day now? I will die before I turn thirty in a cubicle.”

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Kendra (Kae Alexander) spends most of her time at Starbucks or lamenting the state of publishing to Ani (Ellie Kendrick), sweet but two-faced and the only one who’ll listen. Even intern Miles (Bayo Gbadamosi) has put his headphones on to drown out Kendra’s inane whinging.

In desperate attempts to give their own lives importance, they gossip and taunt each other and their colleagues, two of which make brief but significant appearances: Lorin (Bo Poraj), the beleaguered chief fact-checker and Gloria (Sian Clifford), a frumpy copy editor who just had a party that nobody went to.

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They’re all gripped with a panic about whether there is future success waiting for them down this career path – a panic which soon escalates to fever pitch.

Jacobs-Jenkins’ satirical script (a Pulizter Prize finalist) is a sharply written, shrewd commentary on the American culture of celebrity and the toxic space it inhabits in the lives of “normal” people; add to that how anaesthetised we are to the horrors we see on the news. He explores the fallout of a crisis with vigour, unrelentingly digging further and further into the characters’ deep-rooted narcissism. The play follows a reflective arc from comedy to thriller and back to comedy, and the actors doubling up on parts add to this effect.

Combined with Michael Longhurst’s expert direction and Lizzie Clachlan’s attention to detail in set design, Gloria is a painfully real exploration of ruthless ambition and the failings of American society.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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