We’re very slow off the starting blocks with Kenny Morgan, a timely companion to The Deep Blue Sea recently at the National, as it concerns events in Terrence Rattigan‘s life that inspired that play. So, if we’re a tad late to the table we would have to say it’s a separate table.
Like TDBS, Mike Poulton (Wolf Hall, Bring Up The Bodies)’s version begins with a body slumped in front of a gas fire; a failed suicide because someone’s forgotten to put a shilling in the meter.
But this is not Hester Collyer of the heterosexual version, this is Kenny (Paul Keating), a once promising actor and ex-lover of the playwright who is torn between returning to a life of first nights and foie gras or staying in the decaying Camden flat he shares with his boyfriend a heavy-drinking struggling actor Alec (Pierro Niel-Mee). Simon Dutton makes a terrific, rather likeable Rattigan, but is perhaps a little too ruggedly dashing. This, perhaps, should not be too big a surprise as Dutton played TV’s The Saint in the eighties. You may wonder why Kenny would choose to remain in such penniless squalor with Alec who is initially something of a shit before turning into a total one by the end of the play.
Act 1 parallels the Rattigan play closely. There was a distinct whiff of déjà vu even with our inconvenient memories. One fellow lodger (Matthew Bulgo) is delayed for work due to the dramatic find, another, a struck-off doctor (George Irving, excellent), deals with the situation and again there is a fussing, busybodying landlady (Marlene Sidaway) who, impressed with the theatrical luminary in her house professes to preferring a play that features “a Chinaman”. Something we will now add to our own theatrical shopping lists. The even better, much more intense second act follows a more different course. Tragically there isn’t any egg-frying.
There’s convincing mould on the ceiling of Robert Innes Hopkins’ simple gas pipe-lined set but ushers are anxious to stop punters walking across the equally grubby linoleum flooring at the interval. Can’t think why. Effective sound comes from Neil McKeown. You can hear the coin dropping in the meter, the hisses of gas and even, during the many telephone conversations, the voice faintly on the other end of the line, all coming from exactly the right places. And by the end you could hear a pin drop as the intensity of dialogue and performances heightened, though we do not credit Mr McKeown for that. No, that is the work of the actors who are are all convincingly splendid.
Lowenna Melrose makes an incredible impression in just one scene. Don’t take your eyes of those expressions on her face. She plays an actress who offers an auditioning Alec a floor to sleep on in Birmingham, and more than a floor to sleep on in London.
Dizzying Whinger approval in the past (here, here, here and here) hasn’t hindered Keating one jot. He gives a remarkably intense performance; compellingly troubled and vulnerable from the off and builds on this quite devastatingly. Though Phil thought that Andrew, who has a problem with bare feet (even those of the talented Mr K) might be intensely troubled by the display of them throughout the first act. And he was.
Lucy Bailey‘s engrossing production has returned to the Arcola (where it sold out previously) for a 4 week run, so it was a shame to see so many empty seats the night we went. We suggest you rush along and fill them immediately. It’s now only on until Oct 15th. Hopefully it will pop up again somewhere.