Mike Poulton’s powerful play is brought to heartbreaking life in this production directed by Lucy Bailey. Paul Keating in KENNY MORGAN Photo Idil Sukan

Kenny Morgan tells the story of  the actor Kenneth Morgan and his turbulent relationship with his on and off partner Terence Rattigan and his difficult relationship with current partner Alec Lennox.

It isn’t an easy watch, dealing with themes such as suicide (which back in 1949 when the play is set was illegal), insecurity and relationships – but both the play and the production examine the effects of suicide and mental health on those who love the one who is suffering.

But equally, the play highlights the fractious relationship between Kenny (Paul Keating) and Terence (Simon Dutton) – a relationship that is delicate balance of tenderness and bitterness.

What makes the production such a success is Paul Keating’s performance as Kenny. A complicated character whose low self-esteem and paranoia affect his relationship with Alec, but equally he resents Terence for not being more honest about who he is. It is a performance that requires all of Keating’s emotions at once that must be exhausting to play. But it is never overplayed, his neediness is subtle enough to make it believable – particularly in his last scene with Alec (Pierro Niel-Mee) which is particularly heart wrenching.

But there are excellent performances to be found elsewhere as well. Simon Dutton as Terence has the right balance of caring for Kenny, but all the while conscious of his public image as a playwright. It is a charismatic performance that endears the audience to him.

There is lighthearted relief from Marlene Sidaway as the opinionated and fussy but well intentioned Mrs Simpson and Matthew Bulgo as the kindly Dafydd Llod – even if both aren’t given a lot to do in the second act.

As all of the action takes place in a flat in Camden, it is a very contained production that allows the tension to build up at its own pace. Lucy Bailey has created a sympathetic but balanced view of a character, whose story supposedly formed the basis of Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea (also coming back to London coincidentally) and had a tragic ending.

Yes, at times the pace and energy (particularly during the first act) feels as though it is plodding along as all the characters come into play – but this definitely is not a problem in the second act, when Kenny explodes at everyone – except the one person he should be angry at – Alec. This sense of love can make you blind to their faults is particularly shown when Kenny realises that Alec has brought a woman home with him after being out all night – yet he still manages to defend him – is heartbreaking and yet the audience can all relate to defending the actions of the one they love when they do wrong at one stage or another.

Poulton makes several great arguments about how our actions impact on everyone else when Ritter (George Irving) says: “some people -many hundreds and thousands – millions of people would choose life over death – but had no choice – even if they wanted to live very much indeed” it might be blunt, but it gets the audience thinking about our significance in the world.

Despite the over use of catty remarks, this is a powerful play that is beautifully performed by a strong cast and delicately directed by Lucy Bailey.

Kenny Morgan is on at the Arcola Theatre until the 18th June. For more information and to book tickets visit: http://www.arcolatheatre.com/event/kenny-morgan/2016-05-18/

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