KENNY MORGAN – Arcola Theatre, London.
Kenny Morgan is a deeply affecting and honest new play by Mike Poulton that tells the story of a once promising and talented actor who has sunk into the depths of despair. Directed by Lucy Bailey, it takes place over the course of a turbulent 24 hours in one room of a boarding house in Camden Town in 1949 where the relationships Kenny has with two people in his life are stripped bare.
Paul Keating plays the central character. We first meet him at his lowest ebb, unconscious and alone on the floor of his flat. Well meaning neighbour Dafydd (Matthew Bulgo) smells gas and alerts landlady Mrs Simpson (Marlene Sidaway) to gain entry and they try to revive him. Not knowing how to get in contact with Kenny’s lover Alec Lennox, with whom he shares the flat, they call the first number that appears in his address book, none other than esteemed playwright Terence Rattigan (Simon Dutton).
What we get is a raw account of the unfulfilled promise of one man and the passions that destroyed him. In a time when being gay was a crime, and all the danger and uncertainty that brings has left him fragile and lacking self-worth. Involved with Rattigan since he was little more than a teenager, he doesn’t know how to be alone.
At the centre of the play, Keating brings a noble vulnerability to the role of Kenny. Anxious not to be a burden to others even as his life shatters around him, it is hard to watch him struggle to cope. It is heartbreaking to see that when his neighbours show him simple acts of kindness he doesn’t know how to respond. His emotions are so fragile and fluctuate so drastically, that he can be tentatively hopeful for the future one moment, only to be crushed by self-doubt and despair the next. It truly is a great performance.
Simon Dutton as Rattigan is more of an enigma, desperately wanting to help his secret lover even after he has left him, but resolute that his affairs should stay out of the public eye. The events depicted in Kenny Morgan are said to be the inspiration for one of Rattigan’s greatest plays The Deep Blue Sea, but we are given only a glimpse here of the depth of the writer’s feelings, he shows tenderness and genuine concern, but it is hidden behind a stoic facade. This, after all, is not his story.
Every character is complex, and it is sometimes hard to define their feelings and motives precisely, but that just goes to show how truthful they are. Mr Ritter (George Irving) is a recently struck off doctor of Jewish heritage who comes to Kenny’s aid. Pragmatic but unsympathetic towards Kenny’s plight – his people, he says, know a thing or two about suffering – his cruel words are perhaps kinder to Kenny than any offer of a friendly ear or a place to stay could be. Similarly, Pierro Neil-Mee’s Alec, as the trigger for Kenny’s suicide attempt, would be so easy to hate and comes across at times as something of a selfish cad, but it is clear he is also at his wit’s end. He is unable to give Kenny what he needs but doesn’t know what to do, so begins drowning his feelings in whisky and a casual encounter with old friend Norma Hastings (Lowenna Melrose).
Designer Robert Innes Hopkins does a good job of mirroring Kenny’s oppressive life in the joyless drab set with its peeling wallpaper and worn furniture. Kenny doesn’t leave the flat for the duration of the play, you can’t help feeling that if he were to only go outside things would look a lot different. Anyone who has ever felt a moment of hopelessness or even just a little bit down will be able to relate to Kenny Morgan. It is a profound exploration of depression and the inability to see a way out.
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By Catherine Duffy