Gloria at Hampstead Theatre
Shame on the city’s artistic directors for not bringing Branden Jacobs-Jenkins to London sooner. And though Gloria might not be quite as good as An Octoroon – a play that burns so bright it blisters the skin – it is further evidence, if needed, that Jacobs-Jenkins is the real goddamn deal.
Compared to An Octoroon‘s anarchic energy Gloria is positively languid. Yet the unhurried nature of Michael Longhurst’s production is pitch perfect, allowing for the playwright’s nasty little spikes in tone to have full, gasping impact. Most of the narrative – all bar one moment that it would be a travesty to ruin here (seriously, AVOID SPOILERS) – is comprised of savage satiric shots at the media landscape, set in back-biting offices where your colleagues are just another body in the way of completing your five-year plan.
Like a wounded beast print media has become even more brutal in its dying days, sniffing out blood wherever it can find it just to keep up with the endless churn of the internet. It’s created this cannibalistic environment where trauma is the ultimate commodity. Extrapolate further and Jacobs-Jenkins is not only exploring the anonymity of the unambitious under late capitalism, but questions of ownership and authorship over pain and group experience.
The play is full of gruesome doppelgangers. Kae Alexander is queen of the vacuous and the vicious; Sian Clifford deftly captures the divergent paths of two potentially similar women; and Bo Poraj turns someone who could be a one note joke into the moral compass of the play. Both Bayo Gbadamosi and Ellie Kendrick pull triple duty, running the gamut from wide-eyed naivety to vampiric greed.
As for Colin Morgan, well, he really should be on stage a lot, lot more. His rakish, harried Dean is a covert asshole, hiding his awfulness under fake sincerity and “hard work”. (Morgan also makes a brief, hilarious, appearance as the quintessential IT guy, complete with shorts, trainers and an absolutely ludicrous ponytail.)
Structurally, Gloria again suffers in comparison to the playwright’s other London engagement – though, to be honest, most things do. Jacobs-Jenkins is very keen to create a series of mirror images, including replicating the office of act one in act three with only superficial adjustments. He almost goes too far in this regard, underlining his point with a heavy hand. Yet this slight misstep doesn’t mar what is another exquisite night from America’s most exciting and challenging playwright.
Photos: Marc Brenner
Gloria is at Hampstead Theatre from 15th June until 22nd July 2017. For further information or to book visit here.