Mike Poulton’s new play is described as being “after” Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea. Provoking a fascinating relationship between the texts, Poulton exposes the real story of what inspired Rattigan’s work – the suicide of the writer’s eponymous former partner – giving a lesson in gay history and intelligently exploring a tragic love triangle.
This is accomplished writing. With impeccable period detail, and well-researched biographical layers, the play has you reaching for a copy of both texts. Those having seen the National Theatre’s recent production of the Rattigan are in for a game of compare and contrast. But Kenny Morgan is more than a companion piece. Using insights into the closeted world of post-war Britain, Poulton raises themes of shame and hope, dealing sensitively with the subject matter of despair.
Lucy Bailey’s direction is commendable in its restraint, her frequent adventurous streak held back. Crafting an old-fashioned feel, slow-paced, with momentum gradually building, Bailey understands what is needed. She has also secured some tremendous performances that confirm the show is worthy of the blanket praise received from critics during its first sell-out run earlier this year.
Paul Keating is remarkable in the title role. Trapped in a loveless relationship with a young man of astounding selfishness (made credible by Pierro Neil-Mee), Kenny’s hysteria is perfectly controlled by Keating. Frustration and tension mount as the hopelessness of his situation becomes clear, and his final plea is truly distressing. In the background is the famous writer Rattigan, part of the “silk dressing gown and cigarette holder set”, still in love with Kenny but unable to offer him public recognition. Rattigan’s public persona, constructed at a cost, makes this a layered role performed to perfection by Simon Dutton.
Also impressive are those living in the boarding house with Kenny, who help to propel the play’s drama. Marlene Sidaway is superb as a char, whose sly remarks about “musicals” add humour, but whose concern is genuine. Likewise, Matthew Bulgo plays a clerk unnerved by Kenny’s intensity and glamorous connections. Finally a former doctor, who gives the most articulate consideration of Kenny’s situation, provides George Irving with a role he is hugely impressive in. These well-rounded characters create a populous world outside the theatrical milieu Kenny is haunted by, opening up Poulton’s play to make it far more than any afterthought to another work but a standalone piece of great strength.
Until 15 October 2016