Open curtain: it’s an office of cubicles with Bach’s Mass in B minor (Gloria) playing in the background. It’s a 21st-century office heralding the presence of an intern and a copy assistant. What is hell is going on in Branden Jacobs-Jenkins play Gloria now showing at the Hampstead Theatre?
I have a lot of things to say about Gloria mostly because of its content, or at least the first half of it, which is something many writers and media-type workers have to face every day. US playwright Jacobs-Jenkins has given us a sneak preview of a New York-based magazine where editorial assistants grab Star Buck lattes, tweet fake news, swipe for real-time news on their smartphones, handle the puke of their editorial managers and desperately cling onto their dreams of becoming an influential writer one day.
For us audience members, Jacobs-Jenkins describes one out of the zillion office-based careers where climbing the ladder, making a name for yourself and starting off as a low paid, or barely paid, intern is the mainstay for most competitive industries. For Gloria, it’s the soullessness of the magazine industry and the playwright should know given his three years at The New Yorker.
Gloria is not a personal account of Jacobs-Jenkins but a satire that is direct and straight-talking of the soul-destroying inequality and hierarchical systems that wannabe writers have to endure. Three jaded, bitter and unprofessional copy assistants waste their morning gossiping loudly about the people in their office, the corrupt nature of the magazine world and unjust ways they are being used and manipulated to save the careers of those they work for. There’s also the sleep-deprived factfinder who stresses over deadlines and questions, ‘what’s the point of it all?’ And let’s not forget the quiet and ready-to-do-anything office intern that will go to the vending machine to get you your drink even though it is barely five metres away from you.
Fast, energetic and comedic, the script is sharp stuff that will have you thinking about the current state of youth unemployment in the UK; the poor employment rate in the UK and the struggles many millennials and young students have to deal with once their studies are over.
Slap bang in the middle of the play, seconds before the curtains close for the first act, a shocking incident happens in quick succession and audiences are left gasping. It is an event that shatters the core of the office and causes a ripple in all of the characters’ lives.
The second half is much deeper as it seeks answers in the aftermath. It is dedicated to profit and exploitation in the publishing world, or who can make the most money from publishing their experience away. I won’t give readers any spoilers. What I can say is I was thoroughly hooked. Audiences will be moved and feel compelled to react to this brilliant piece of theatre.
Executed with panache, Michael Longhurst inserts realism and brute force into this powerful play that grapples with crucial matters. Lizzie Clachan deserves credit for moving Tottenham Court Road’s Star Buck’s branch into Hampstead Theatre and gets top marks for pioneering two very distinct office environments.
Colin Morgan (TV: The Fall, Humans) is undoubtedly a versatile performer as both Dean – a whiny and obnoxious copy assistant – and aloof IT guy. Kae Alexander’s (TV: Game of Thrones, The Bad Education Movie) Kendra is an irritating and bitchy know-it-all, yet Alexander’s acting prowess shouldn’t go unnoticed. I cannot recall her missing any of her lines even at the rate at which she was speaking – 100 miles per hour.
Ellie Kendrick (TV: Game of Thrones, The Levelling) is also a sophisticated actress who effortlessly moves from naive office body to top dog publisher. Sian Clifford, as both the inwardly awkward Gloria and self-obsessed editor in charge Nancy, is smooth on transition and performance. Bayo Gbadamosi (TV: Doctor Who, Casualty) is a breath of fresh air, likable and poised in all three roles, from a simple intern, protective Star Buck staff member and head of a TV firm. The last man standing is Lorin performed by Bo Poraj (TV: Miranda, Stan Lee’s Lucky Man) who is someone we can all relate to. He is a reminder of those who get left behind, who don’t speak up and keep it bottled. Often it is people like that we need to hear more from, than rely on alternative facts.