Set in 1953, Plague over England centres on the actor John Gielgud when, at the height of his fame, he 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.
Michael Feast plays Gielgud, replacing Jasper Britton who played the role at the Finborough. The cast also features Celia Imrie as Dame Sybil Thorndike and Simon Dutton as infamous impresario Binkie Beaumont in a production directed by Tamara Harvey.
Much like at the Finborough last year, de Jongh's critical counterparts were generally impressed by their colleague's first theatrical offering. A raft of four stars adorned the papers as de Jongh himself enjoyed a night off from his usual duties. His Evening Standard colleague Johann Hari stepped in, and didn't hold back in his praise of de Jongh's “terrific” first play. There were references by some to the script being more akin to a “telly play”, but most were agreed that the “touching” examination of Gielgud's public trauma made for an engrossing evening of theatre. And the “outrageously underrated” Michael Feast can rest easy in the knowledge that most critics preferred his take on Gielgud to that of his predecessor in the role.
- by Theo Bosanquet