★★★★ | Kenny Morgan
If you missed “Kenny Morgan” this summer then you have a second chance. The play is back for four weeks at The Arcola Theatre in Dalston and remains an evocative and beautiful treat of a play with a host of polished performances.
Kenny Morgan was a young actor who had had a promising career in 1940’s British films. He had also had an on/off relationship for ten years with Terrence Rattigan, a high profile British playwright. In 1949 Kenny gassed himself to death in a down at heel Camden Town flat that he was sharing with a young actor who he’d left Rattigan for. Terrence Rattigan’s play “The Deep Blue Sea” echoes Kenny’s story to a degree but with gender switching to suit the times (and the Lord Chamberlain’s office).
Set in a mould encrusted flat with gas pipes defining the space, this play depicts Kenny’s despair. Sounds grim but it’s not. It’s witty and warm as well as devastating. Paul Keating is superb as Morgan, delicately easing us into his despair and leaving the audience frustrated and helpless but never less than sympathetic. Mike Poulton’s script is tight and detailed and achieves a difficult task: retaining dramatic tension even when we know the inevitable ending. The dialogue and set feel wholly authentic, transporting the viewer to 1940s London along with its restrictions. There’s something claustrophobic and terrifying about Kenny’s world where being gay is illegal and can land you in prison, as can attempting suicide.
Although Kenny is a different beast from most of us in contemporary Britain, there are plenty of parallels and as well as the beauty of the piece; this makes it well worth a visit. Who hasn’t felt heartbroken and despairing and been laid low by loving the wrong man? Kenny has fallen for a man who doesn’t even claim to love him, has stopped sleeping with him and is still sleeping with women and men behind his back. Not an unusual story. Neither is the story of his relationship with Rattigan. Unable to be out in public Rattigan maintained elaborate ruses to keep his homosexuality both from the public and from his family. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s met men like that? Who hasn’t struggled to understand someone else’s depression or even their own? Although his misery is tangible, it’s difficult not to want to try to solve Kenny’s issues.
The play isn’t as bleak as it sounds on paper. There are fine comedic moments and the pace is brisk. There are also touching moments of human kindness as the people around Kenny try their best to help. My recommendation is to just see this. You’re unlikely to see a finer play with a gay theme any time soon.
Kenny Morgan plays at the Arcola Theatre until 15th October
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Chris is a theatre and book obsessed Midlander who escaped to London. He’s usually to be found slumped in a seat in a darkened auditorium.