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Kenny Morgan review at the Arcola Theatre, London – ‘eloquent and moving’

Simon Dutton and Paul Keating in Kenny Morgan at the Arcola Theatre, London. Photo: Idil Sukan Simon Dutton and Paul Keating in Kenny Morgan at the Arcola Theatre, London. Photo: Idil Sukan
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When Terrence Rattigan wrote The Deep Blue Sea, it is purported that its tragic story had been inspired by the suicide of his ex-lover Kenny Morgan. The two had been together for 10 years until Morgan quit the relationship, unsatisfied that Rattigan and he couldn’t live as a couple in an age when homosexuality was illegal.

Author Mike Poulton, who was previously responsible for adapting Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, mirrors Rattigan’s dramatic style, meticulously observing Morgan’s decline and desperation in a world that still prosecuted suicide attempts and homosexual activity. Morgan is offered lifelines, kindness and sound advice, but they are irrationally ignored as his destructive relationship with the self-centred Alex spirals to its inevitable conclusion.

Lucy Bailey’s direction captures the rhythm of the play perfectly as it swerves between camp banter and stifling oppression. The more the play unfolds, the more impossible Morgan’s situation becomes, and Paul Keating’s performance painstakingly articulates that sense of disillusion and despair. Simon Dutton’s Rattigan is deliciously urbane, desperate to resolve the situation but ultimately on his terms, while Pierro Niel-Mee is pitch-perfect as the gloriously vile, self-centred Alex.

A triumvirate of nosey neighbours may initially appear as comic asides, but author Poulton uses them to add vital social context to his drama. His dramatisation of Morgan’s last day alive may appear to focus on social attitudes to homosexuality, but, in fact, it sheds more light on the nature of depression and how post-war Britain failed to recognise or understand it.

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Eloquent and moving new drama that illustrates depression in post-war Britain through a minor cause celebre