In his anarchic play An Octoroon running at the Orange Tree in Richmond until earlier this month, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins explored authorship as part of his dissection of race in 19th-century narratives. Gloria at Hampstead Theatre is a very different play but, in its own way, it explores authorship in terms of how we each deal with our life experiences in different ways.
It opens on the offices of a New York magazine, focusing on a group of 20-something assistants all dreaming of making a name for themselves as they work on their blogs and book proposals. The writing is sharp and very funny, presenting characters and situations that will be unsettlingly familiar to anyone who has worked in an office. What happens next has been successfully kept under wraps so I won’t include any spoilers except that it brilliantly and often movingly looks at how the characters deal with what happens to them in the cut-throat world of modern media.
Colin Morgan is fantastic as Dean, angry and frustrated at his lack of success as he approaches 30 but unable to break out of the comfort of his office cubicle. Ellie Kendrick is also impressive as his co-worker Ani alongside Kae Alexander as an outspoken fashionista and Bayo Gbadamosi as the naive intern. Sian Clifford is perfectly pitched as Nan, an editor who hides her self-absorption behind a charming facade. Bo Poraj also stands out as the frazzled Lorin, caught on an emotional rollercoaster in his dead-end Bartleby-like life as a fact checker.
Deftly directed by Michael Longhurst, Gloria may resonate most with those of us who have actually worked in magazine offices but it presents characters everyone can recognise. It satirically captures the mood of today’s fast-moving, disposable media, where everyone’s voice has value until the next one comes along. It is also a gripping and darkly funny drama, confirming Branden Jacobs-Jenkins as one of America’s best and freshest writers in theatre.
Running to July 29, 2017