Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Review Kenny Morgan

Francis Beckett is engrossed by the relationships at the centre of a new play about the fate of celebrated playwright Terence Rattigan's young lover.

Kenny Morgan
By Mike Poulton

The End Of The Affair

The playwright Terence Rattigan had a long love affair with a young actor called Kenny Morgan. Morgan left Rattigan for a younger, bisexual actor who in turn left him, and Morgan killed himself in 1949. On this basis of fact, playwright Mike Poulton, who adapted Wolf Hall for the stage, has built a fine, gripping, sometimes very funny and occasionally flawed play directed by Lucy Bailey.

The three men at the heart of the love triangle, on whom the play depends, are carefully and sensitively drawn so that we care about what happens to each of them, and they are brought to life in three fine performances: the wealthy, slightly cynical but ultimately caring and vulnerable Rattigan by Simon Dutton, the louche young lover Alec by Pierro Niel-Mee and the clinging Kenny – the most important of the lot, and the hardest, for it’s very easy to lose patience with people who wail “But I love him!” – by Paul Keating. 

The minor characters are a different matter. There are two small parts for women, and they are both sloppily written. 

Kenny’s landlady is a monster in her scenes in Act One, and then all motherly concern at the end of Act Two, with no plausible explanation for the change offered; Marlene Sidaway does the only thing she can do, which is to say her lines with total conviction.   

The young woman Alec sleeps with has one brief scene when she is required to stay on the stage far longer than is plausible because it suits the author’s convenience. Lowenna Melrose performs it well, but can’t make it credible.

Kenny’s neighbour Mr Ritter is a Jewish refugee, a struck off doctor – we never quite understand why he was struck off. He is there principally, I think, to make the point to Kenny that Jews in Germany just half a decade previously had no choice but to die; while Kenny has the choice, and talk of suicide is somewhat self-indulgent.

 “Are you a psycho-analyst?”   “No, but I was brought up in Vienna.”   

George Irving plays him thoughtfully, but gives him an accent which I could not place - not the light, charming Mitteleuropa accent he would actually have had.

The only minor character who hangs together, and whose back story we understand, is Kenny’s other neighbour Mr Lloyd, well played by Matthew Bulgo.

Mike Poulton has given us a good play, but with a little more attention to detail he could have given us a better one. 

Characters light cigarettes in a room which, we have just been told, is full of gas, where no one should strike a match; Kenny’s backstory – since this is 1949 and he met Rattigan ten years ago – must surely include time in the army, or time avoiding going into the army, but it is never mentioned; doctors cannot be called out because they have to be paid for, but this is 1949, and the National Health Service was founded the previous year, still a cause of wonder, awe and gratitude.

Taking these factors into consideration, this play is too flawed quite to deserve top marks. So, it's an amber/green light for Kenny Morgan, but a good evening in the theatre all the same.

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