Kenny Morgan

When a smell of gas emerges from flat three of a boarding house in Camden, the residents gather to find the body of a resident, Kenny Morgan, laid out by the fire. He is alive still; the meter has run out and though weak, he pulls through. In the immediate, chaotic aftermath of this discovery, an address book is searched and the famous playwright Terence Rattigan called. What follows is a moving depiction of gay experience in the late-1940s, an exploration of the shame, stigma and self-loathing that characterised hidden shadow-lives and the seeming impossibility of finding love in such circumstances.

The bond between the two men was believable and their explosive, unkind treatment of one another painful to watch.

Pierro Niel-Mee was electric to watch as the young Alec Lennox, Kenny’s lover, giving a nuanced interpretation of a conflicted individual, simultaneously insecure in his desires but mature enough to finally leave. He is an agent of autonomy and has the capacity to act, fuck, drink and move forward, while Kenny, by contrast, is an inert figure, unable to do anything constructive or make any definitive decision about his life. Both men are unhappy and ashamed and this manifests itself in different ways. Theirs is a doomed love story because they are incompatible and their aspirations ultimately antagonistic. They are caught in a recurring nightmare in which the same conversations and accusations replay but are never resolved. The bond between the two men was believable and their explosive, unkind treatment of one another painful to watch.

While this love (or lack thereof) affair felt authentically turbulent, the central relationship between Kenny (Paul Keating) and Terence Rattigan (Simon Dutton) failed to convince. There was no sense of intimacy between the two men and as a result, the play lacked an emotional core necessary to sweep the plot and the audience along. The scenes between Kenny and Rattigan felt overly drawn-out, repetitive and artificial. It is understandable that, in a play about actors and playwrights, the interaction the between lovers is dramatic, but there needed to be more quietness, tenderness and genuine reflection – moments in which the façade could have slipped. Unfortunately, it all felt jarringly performative.

However, there were some frankly outstanding performances from the supporting cast members. Mike Poulton populated the boarding house of his imagination with a diverse array of strikingly well-written tenants who command attention, despite their stage time. Notably, George Irving gave a considered and charismatic performance as Mr. Ritter, a Jewish doctor who has been struck-off. He imbued the part with measured pathos and became one of the more interesting figures to watch. Equally, in a play with such heavy themes it was refreshing to have the mood lightened by several strong comedic performances. Mrs. Simpson’s acidic comments about Kenny’s ‘theatrical’ walk and ‘musical’ personality were perfectly timed and Mr. Lloyd, the bashfully sincere neighbour who tries to forge a connection with Kenny was hilariously earnest.

Indeed, there were many things about this production that impressed, not least the set design, in which the space was made to feel stifling and claustrophobic – representative of the relationships within the play. However, Kenny was not a sympathetic enough figure at any point to elicit an emotional response. This, coupled with his stilted connection with Rattigan, meant that the climax of the play failed to realise its moving and poignant potential.

Reviews by Cal Kenny

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The Blurb

Kenny Morgan, a volatile tale of secrets and lies, destructive passions and unrequited love, shines a light on the turbulent relationship between the actor Kenneth Morgan and Terence Rattigan, one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated playwrights.

Drawing on the real-life events behind one of Rattigan’s greatest plays, The Deep Blue Sea, this heart-wrenching drama premieres at Arcola in a powerful new production by Lucy Bailey (Fortune’s Fool, Old Vic; Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare’s Globe).