Lee Lewis

Feature | Targeted Ambition

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Director Lee Lewis loves a challenge, and Gloria sets a new benchmark for ambitious theatre.

Gloria is a play that director Lee Lewis says she wouldn’t be doing unless it had something extraordinary to say about the world we live in. ‘The question that the play asks, is “How do you go back to your regular life after trauma? Can anything be normal again?” After some traumas there is no normal to go back to, and Branden Jacobs-Jenkins has found a theatrical way of answering that.’

It is the exploitation of trauma, both financial and emotional, that ultimately drives Gloria’s narrative. ‘This play is a morality tale for our time, where we examine out current value system,’ Lewis says.

Jacobs-Jenkins’s characters practice the worst kind of ambition, in which competition is bold, cutthroat and applies a cowboy-justice to the workplace. Individual needs continuously trump the greater needs of their community.

The setting for this flourishing individualism is the collapse of America’s press industry and in its place the rise of the self-made “publisher”. This is not a central point of the play, Lewis says, but rather a contextual detail that colours the play’s backdrop.

When MTC Artistic Director Brett Sheehy approached Lewis to direct Gloria, she knew there was one scene in question which would require a lot of work to do justice. ‘I instantly knew that Gloria represented a challenge for me, which was very appealing.’

Gloria’s apex comes in a moment of reckoning that is both inexplicable and tragically common. The sequence is shocking and shows the depths of this play’s wicked heart, its fearlessness and its own ambition. We cannot tell you much more about it, however, without spoiling your night at the theatre.

Surprise sequences are notoriously difficult to execute on stage. Unlike film, where the scene is set once, theatre demands a scene is set upwards of eight times a week. ‘I think that acts like this on stage are often so problematic that unless there is a really strong reason to do it, there’s no point engaging in that level of difficulty.’

‘The curtain comes down at the end of Act 1 and we don’t know what play we’re going back to see…this makes for great drama.’

Gloria plays at Southbank Theatre, The Sumner from the 16th of June to the 21st of July.

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