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A shocking glimpse inside the covers of nasty magazine life

Back-stabbers: Colin Morgan (far right) plays Dean, surrounded by acid-tongued co-workers

Review

Gloria

Hampstead Theatre, London

★★★★✩

IN this whip-smart play populated by wannabe writers working at a New York magazine, a life-changing moment arrives with the force of a meteor crashing into a picnic.

I can’t tell you much more about the scene without the spoiler-alert police stringing me up. But when it comes it turns the articulate, smart and urbane Dean, played by Humans star Colin Morgan — aka Merlin in the BBC fantasy-drama — into a quivering mass of jelly. I can also say that you will never forget it.

Until then, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s play, and Michael Longhurst’s pitch-perfect production, is chiefly notable for being brimful of acid-tongued banter. Morgan’s Dean is one of the nicer workers in an open-plan office of back-stabbing nasties.

Most are bright young things working in the dead-end job of editorial assistant. Each is desperate to climb the ladder of an industry under mortal threat from the internet, preferably while pushing one of their peers off it. Ani seems a good egg until she relishes the humiliation of a colleague; Kendra’s biggest talent appears to be hurting people with the truth.

Dean’s best hope of escape lies in his idea for a book — but it also provides Kendra and Ani with yet more ammo to crush a competitor’s hope after they read the proposal without his permission.

If all this builds a picture of an industry whose callous culture has sucked the niceness out of the people who work in it, then that is exactly Jacobs-Jenkins’s point.