Finborough Stages Plague by Standard’s De JonghDate: 22 November 2007
The Evening Standard’s notoriously hard-to-please Nicholas de Jongh will put himself at the mercy of his fellow drama critics in the new year when his own new play premieres at the fringe Finborough Theatre (pictured) in west London. De Jongh’s Plague Over England, which opens the theatre’s spring 2008 season, runs for four weeks from 27 February to 22 March 2008.
In autumn 1953, Sir John Gielgud, then at the height of his fame as an actor, was arrested in a Chelsea public lavatory. He pleaded guilty the following morning to the charge of persistently importuning men for immoral purposes. Poised to appear in the West End in a play he was directing and recently knighted, his conviction caused a national sensation – breaking the great taboo of public discussion of homosexuality.
Plague Over England - which features scenes ranging from a gentlemen’s gay club in Piccadilly to Scotland Yard where pretty policeman were taught how to seduce men in lavatories - explores the mood in 1950s Britain when judges, politicians and the national press were describing homosexuality as a cancer, an epidemic and a threat to national life.
The play recently had a rehearsed reading at the Royal Court, directed by Court artistic director Dominic Cooke. It’s not the first time one of Jongh’s plays has been seen at the Court: in 1990, his play Aids Memoirs featured in the May Days season, and in 1996, his book Politics, Pruderies and Perversions, a history of theatre censorship in the UK, was dramatised for a one-off performance.
Nicholas de Jongh has been theatre critic of the Evening Standard since 1991, before which he wrote for the Guardian and the Daily Mail. In addition to Politics, Pruderies and Perversions, which won the Society of Theatre Research Prize in 2001, he’s the author of Not in Front of the Audience, a history of homosexuality on stage.
In 1980, while at the Guardian, De Jongh famously demanded (and received) police protection after a scathing review of Steven Berkoff in Hamlet at London's Roundhouse led to Berkoff threatening to kill him. Berkoff later confirmed that he was, in fact, joking when he made the threat.
Plague Over England will be directed by Tamara Harvey, whose credits include Whipping It Up and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in the West End. This is Harvey’s third production for the Finborough, after Young Emma and Something Cloudy, Something Clear. As a companion piece to De Jongh’s drama, the Finborough will also present the play Gielgud was performing when he was arrested, NC Hunter’s A Day by the Sea by, for five Sunday and Monday performances in March and April 2008.
The Finborough spring season will then continue with the first UK revival of Charles Wood’s war farce Jingo (26 March to 19 April) and the first production in over a century of Joanna Baillie’s Witchcraft (23 April to 10 May). There will also be Sunday and Monday performances in April/May of the UK premiere production of Love Lessons, based on the diary of Joan Wyndham.
- by Tom Atkins