Kenneth Morgan was a young actor, who in February 1949 took his own life by overdosing and turning on the gas. Kenneth had starred in 1940’s French Without Tears, which was based on Terrence Rattigan’s 1936 play. Rattigan and Morgan were also lovers.
Mike Poulton’s play, inspired by The Deep Blue Sea (which coincidentally opened on 8 June is on at the National Theatre until August) looks at Kenny Morgan’s final day, which opens with a failed suicide attempt and ends with Morgan concluding the act. It is a story of love, mostly the lack of it as well as a look at Post war England. The doctor (played exceptionally by George Irving) who initially saves Morgan is a Jewish Austrian doctor, who has been struck off.
This has been a word of mouth hit for the Arcola, mainly in part to fantastic performance of Paul Keating, known mostly for musicals, he is heartbreaking as the young Morgan, a man who loves too much and expects the same in return. He is caught in a triangle with Simon Dutton’s Rattigan and his lover Alec Lennox, played wonderfully by Pierro Niel-Mee, a man who cheats and abuses Morgan’s kindness. There is fantastic support from George Irving as Mr Ritter, who is a voice of reason despite his own downfall and demons.
It does drag in act 2 though. The scenes with Alec’s lover Norma feel like an unnecessary plot device, in a play with too many characters and too many scenes. The return of characters such as Mr Lloyd the neighbour and Morgan’s landlady Mrs Simpson from the crucial early scenes feels more like a financial justification rather than essential to the remaining plot.
It is an interesting companion to The Deep Blue Sea but also a look at the private life of Rattigan, a playwright who has been re-appreciated in the last few years. It is also a stunning use of the small space, the misty atmosphere feels like you are in post war London and there is some beautiful sound design.