Pros: Outstanding performances from the whole cast. A glorious script which is simultaneously heartbreaking and witty.
Cons: It’s hard to find any but if you were of a nervous disposition, you may find parts of the play upsetting.
I’m still recovering. What an utterly breathtaking and heart wrenching night at the characterful Arcola Theatre. I already know that this piece of theatre will stay with me for a long time. It is the revival of Mike Poulton’s Kenny Morgan, following its sold out and critically acclaimed debut at the same venue in May.
It’s London, 1949, and in a world where being gay is a crime punishable by imprisonment, we meet Morgan. Once a successful upcoming actor and winner of awards from the BFI, he now finds himself in a dowdy boarding house in Camden Town which he shares with the younger, confident and more flamboyant budding actor Alec Lennox. Their apartment is shabby and dank, with mould creeping across the ceiling. The constantly smoky and heady atmosphere reeks of desperation, making this a truly and totally immersive experience. Sometimes the tight seating within the sizable auditorium borders on feeling claustrophobic, but this is also due to the tension and the gripping nature of the story. The man next to me joked that was worried about the close proximity, because hadn’t learned his lines!
Aptly, it feels like the set has been erected in the backstage of a theatre, for this behind-closed-doors play also charts the story of Morgan’s secret relationship with the awarded and lauded playwright of the 1940s and 50s, Terence Rattigan. The glamorous Rattigan could not risk his secret homosexual persona to be exposed, and the turmoil this creates for his younger lover is devastating. It was this forbidden life on which Rattigan based the more publicly acceptable heterosexual relationship in his play The Deep Blue Sea. The dashing Paul Keating, who plays Morgan, pours his heart and soul onto the stage, descending into fits of desperation and frustration as he loses any vestige of dignity and self worth. His adoration for Lennox, to whom he is basically invisible, finds him near possessed. Keating gives the most amazing performance, rarely giving the audience one second to catch its breath. The whole cast are outstanding though, especially Simon Dutton as the rich and charismatic Rattigan and George Irving as the plain speaking Mr Ritter.
This is not just a play about homosexuality, however: it has universal themes of unrequited and forbidden love. There are some acerbic one liners which often had the audience guffawing, but in moments of tension, I was on the verge of an intervention! My hand was clutched to my chest for most of the play, but at the same time it was wholly and altogether fantastic experience. A tense, heart-stopping and unmissable production.
Author: Mike Poulton
Director: Lucy Bailey
Producer: Arcola Theatre
Box Office: 020 7503 1646
Booking Link: http://www.arcolatheatre.com/event/kenny-morgan/
Booking Until: 15 October 2016