Thursday, 22 September 2016

'Kenny Morgan' at the Arcola Theatre

This week we went to see a new play, 'Kenny Morgan' at the Arcola Theatre, a play about the events that led Terrence Rattigan to write 'The Deep Blue Sea' that has just closed at the National Theatre. I saw 'The Deep Blue Sea' earlier in the summer and it's still fresh in my mind so it was easy to see the similarities in the plotting.

'The Deep Blue Sea' is the tale of a woman who leaves her older, distinguished husband for a younger and more energetic man, a war hero and pilot with glamour and a future. It opens with Hester being found on the floor beside her gas fire in her drab little flat having attempted suicide but, luckily, the gas metre has run out of shillings. 'Kenny Morgan' is the tale of a young actor who leaves his distinguished play-write lover for a younger actor with energy and the glamour of youth. It opens with Kenneth lying on the floor in front of his gas fire in his dark flat in Camden Town... So, yes, there are similarities in the plotting and this follows throughout the play but it's what happens between the characters that captures and retains the interest.

Interwoven throughout the play are themes of homosexuality which was illegal back then, although everyone in the drab little boarding house in Camden seem to know that Kenny and Carl are lovers. Kenny rails at Terrence for hiding their love affair when they were together, with Kenny having to live in a separate flat in the same building in case Terrence's mother found out. Was this true or is a plot device to help explain why Kenny left his comfortable life with Terrence in favour of the penniless actor Carl?

The play slowly unfolds over the course of the day as Kenny receives visitors after his 'accident' and we learn more about the central characters. We're told, almost as a throw-away line that Kenny first met Carl when he found him asleep in his bed, one of Terrence's cast-off play-things. Whether true or not hardly matters, it shines more light on an unknowable plot. Kenny is clearly the junior partner in the relationship with the 19 year old Carl, just as he was with the much older Terrence, and at one point kneels at Carl's feet to brush his shoes. His desperation for the relationship to continue, to have Carl "love" him, to have a meaning in his life is quite poignant in a way.

I enjoyed this play a lot, possibly more so that 'The Deep Blue Sea', maybe because it was on a small stage in a small theatre, making it feel more claustrophobic and intense. Paul Keating was good as Kenny and so was Simon Dutton at Terrence, with George Irvings as the mysterious Mr Ritter, Daffy Lloyd as the upstairs neighbour, Pierro Neil-Mee as the equally mixed-up Alec and Lowenna Melrose as Norma, the girl-friend Alec brings home for a random shag. I think my favourite was Marlene Sidaway as Mrs Simpson, owner of the boarding house and general busy-body - I thought she was excellent. It was written by Mike Poulton and directed by Lucy Bailey. Well done Arcola for staging it originally and bringing it back for a short run. It deserves a wider audience.

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