Kenny MorganThe Arcola hosts the world premiere of Kenny Morgan; a new play by Mike Poulton, Tony nominated for the Broadway productions of Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies. Lucy Bailey directs this play based on the real life events believed to have inspired Terence Rattigan’s famous play, The Deep Blue Sea. In a letter to John Osborne, Terence Rattigan wrote: “Perhaps I should rewrite Deep Blue Sea as it really was meant to be”; he never rewrote the play. Poulton is clear that he did not wish to rewrite Rattigan’s play, rather create a new piece inspired by the same events.

The Kenny Morgan of the play’s title was the lover of Terence Rattigan. In 1940, Morgan received the award for Most Promising Newcomer from the British Film Industry. Rattigan was a celebrated playwright living a glamorous lifestyle thanks to the success of his plays. The couple had a turbulent and secretive relationship for ten years until Kenny left Rattigan for a younger actor, Alec Lennox.

The play is set in 1949 when Kenny is living with Alec in a scruffy flat in Camden, a far cry from the life he had enjoyed with Rattigan. Concerned by the smell of gas, Kenny’s neighbours find him unconscious on the floor in front of a gas fire. Unable to rouse him, they attempt to contact his family and friends. The first number they find in an address book is for Terence Rattigan, and so the tale begins.

Paul Keating is well cast as the fragile and needy Kenny, clinging to a failing relationship as he cannot bear the thought of being alone. Simon Dutton relishes the role of Rattigan, commanding the stage as he bowls in, exquisitely dressed. Alec Lennox, played by Pierro Niel-Mee, is a selfish, fun-loving character, not ready for settling down, seemingly unconcerned about how his behaviour has affected Kenny. Matthew Bulgo is the gentle, ‘ordinary’ Dafydd who discovers Kenny and is confused by his actions; his conversations with Kenny shed light on his state of mind and show the gulf between the life of the actor and this office worker. George Irving plays Mr Ritter, a struck off doctor who is called on for help by Mrs Simpson, the landlady. Ritter’s character comes into its own in the second half of the play where he gives Kenny a dose of realism in an attempt to shake him out of his misery. The two female roles are less well crafted; this is a very male play. Marlene Sidaway and Lowenna Melrose do their best with what they’re given.

The Arcola is transformed into Kenny and Alec’s flat; the main stage is the living room with the front door where the visitors come and go, the characters move through the audience and into the unseen rooms of the flat. The gas fire, gas meter and copper pipes are used as a feature of the set, ever present as a reminder of Kenny’s demise.

Set in a time when homosexuality and attempted suicide were criminal offences, this makes for a fascinating insight into a hidden world as the audience learns what has brought Kenny from the young actor tipped for stardom to such a low point.

Reviewed by Rhiannon Evans
Photo: Idil Sukan

KENNY MORGAN plays at the Arcola Theatre until 18 June 2016