Kenny Morgan at the Arcola Theatre
Mike Poulton’s (Fortune’s Fool; Wolf Hall) new play is a harrowing look at what it is to be different in post-war Britain. Although it was a time free of global physical conflict, this did not mean that the people themselves had secured freedom. Rationing was still regulated to ensure economic growth, and laws against homosexuality placed restrictions on the right to love whom one pleased.
Kenny Morgan is an interesting play about a man of the same name living in a dusty, dreary flat in Camden Town with his emotionally distant partner, Alec Lennox (Pierro Niel-Mee). One day the smell of gas alarms his neighbours and they enter the apartment to find Kenny’s (Paul Keating) motionless body sprawled in front of a gas hearth. Struggling with what to do next, Dafydd Lloyd (Matthew Bulgo) decides to call the first person in Kenny’s address book, Terrence Rattigan (Simon Dutton). What follows is a highly entertaining yet acutely distressing account of the events leading up to the tragedy.
With sublime direction from Lucy Bailey paired with starkly realistic performances from both the main and supporting cast, the play is wonderfully engaging. In fact, it feels as though there are no supporting roles at all, as each character plays an important part in the fluidity of the narrative. Keating is brilliant in his heartbreaking portrayal of the broken man, alongside Niel-Mee, who plays the role of the unappreciative, narcissist with finesse.
Poulton certainly alludes to Rattigan’s work, with teasing, chuckle-worthy references and, of course, the beginning scene that echoes The Deep Blue Sea. Though the play features Terrence Rattigan as a character, it is not he who takes centre stage: this is the story of Kenny Morgan and, though it is in places flawed (particularly in regards to its length), the script itself is both articulate and poignant, intricately threading together episodes of Kenny’s life with such realism and despair that the end result is truly heart-rending. This is not a play to be brushed off on leaving the theatre, rather something its audience takes home. It not only reflects the societal attitudes of 60 years ago, but also our own prejudices today.
This is a story about how to be loved and the courage it takes to remain true to yourself. Never has theatre been so moving – not one to miss.
Kenny Morgan is on at the Arcola Theatre from 18th May until 18th June 2016, for further information or to book visit here.