GLORIA. Glorious Gloria.
There is no other way to describe this marvellous play from the hugely talented Branden Jacob-Jenkins that is showcasing at the Hampstead Theatre in North London. It runs until July 29. I urge you to go and see it. You will not be disappointed.
Jacob-Jenkins is in a rich vein of London form. His wonderful play, An Octoroon, has just ended an incredibly successful run at The Orange Theatre in Richmond where Ken Nwosu – quite rightly – received rave reviews for his portrayal of the playwright and the play’s two main characters, George and the evil M’Closky.
Having immensely enjoyed An Octoroon four evenings earlier, I never thought for one moment that Gloria could match it. But it did.
At its heart are key issues – ageism, career burnout, the fracturing of journalism as we know it and self-aggrandisement uber alles.
The play is a slow burn, seemingly ambling along in amusing fashion as a series of characters who work for a magazine display their frailties and egos. They are an eclectic bunch of young individuals, constantly sniping at each other. Verbal sparring par excellence.
There is the hard drinking, wannabe author and socialising Dean, the self-centred and free spending Kendra, put-upon intern Miles and inquisitive Ani.
Add in stressed fact-checker Lorin who detests noise and complains all the time and Nan (the boss) who we initially do not see apart from a bag of her vomit – and the jigsaw is complete, apart from Gloria. A moody Gloria who the night before had held a party which only Dean from among the office had bothered to turn up to (he got horribly drunk, explaining his tardiness that morning).
The office exchanges are fierce. ‘How do you get away with this?’ asks Dean as Kendra offers to go out on a Starbucks coffee run. ‘Get away with what?’ she snarls. ‘Doing no work. You just got here an hour late, called China or something, monologued about baby boomers for fifteen minutes, and now you’re leaving on a coffee break.’
This verbal punch up continues with Kendra stating that their industry is dominated by privileged straight white men. Dean’s response is deliciously spiky. ‘Kendra, you’re a rich Asian girl from Pasadena with a degree from Harvard. That is essentially a privileged straight white man.’ Killer words.
What happens next is unexpected and shocking. But as the play’s title suggests, Gloria is at its epicentre.
The second act switches to a Starbucks’ coffee house and then to the offices of a television production company. The scenes are dominated by yet more vitriolic (and violent) exchanges between Kendra and Dean – and the attempt by both of them and Nan to further their careers as a result of the Gloria ‘incident’.
A lonely (and age aware) Lorin, temping at the television company, is bemused by those who he is working for as well as belittled when he meets up with Nan who fails to recognise him. An individual whose time has been and gone. Too old (late thirties).
The acting is outstanding with all six actors contributing to the play’s magnificence. Apart from Bo Poray (brilliant as earnest Lorin), the others either double or triple up.
Kae Alexander plays a laid back Jenna (an executive at the television company) to perfection. You could boil a kettle by the time she ends a sentence. She is also the spitting, snarling Kendra.
Colin Morgan is superb as an ever more desperate Dean and marvels in a cameo role as an angry IT worker at the TV company.
Completing the cast are Ellie Kendrick (excellent as Callie, Jenna’s assistant), Bayo Gbadamosi (whose eyes do all the talking as a Starbucks’ barista) and Sian Clifford (doubling up as Gloria and Nan). There is not a weak link in this production directed by Michael Longhurst. The set design (Lizzie Clachan) is sublime – and of course we have the musical accompaniment of Bach’s Mass in B Minor (Gloria).
What a shame that this superlative play is taking place just as the Arts Council has slashed Hampstead’s Theatre’s funding by 14 per cent. A reduction that Edward Hall, Hampstead’s artistic director, has described as swinging a ‘wrecking ball’ through the theatre’s future plans.
What would Jacob-Jenkins say? Maybe a trigger point for another play that in time will become a Pulitzer Finalist for Drama – as Gloria was last year while playing Off-Broadway.
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Dean/Devin: Colin Morgan
Kendra/Jenna: Kae Alexander
Ani/Sasha/Callie: Ellie Kendrick
Gloria/Nan: Sian Clifford
Miles/Shawn/Rashaad: Bayo Gbadamosi
Lorin: Bo Poraj
Writer: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Director: Michael Longhurst
Designer: Lizzie Clachan
Gloria runs until July 29