Plague Over England - the debut play by drama critic Nicholas de Jongh, who announced this week that he’s stepping down after 18 years at the Evening Standard (See News, 30 Mar 2009) – has posted closing notices at the West End’s Duchess Theatre.

Following an initial sell-out four-week run last year at the fringe Finborough Theatre, Plague Over England opened in the West End – with a cast led by Michael Feast as John Gielgud and Celia Imrie as Sybil Thorndike (See News, 19 Jan 2009) - on 23 February 2009 (previews from 11 February). It had been booking until 16 May but will now finish, a fortnight earlier, on 2 May.

Set in 1953, Plague Over England centres on Gielgud when, at the height of his acting 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 taboo of public discussion of homosexuality.

Feast and Imrie are joined in the West End cast by Simon Dutton, David Burt, Hugh Ross, John Warnaby, Michael Brown, Steven Hansell, Sam Heughan and Leon Ockenden. The production is directed by Tamara Harvey, with design by Alex Marker and lighting by James Farncombe. It’s produced by Bill Kenwright and the Ambassador Theatre Group.

De Jongh is giving up theatre criticism to concentrate on more creative writing, including a film adaptation of Plague Over England, a new book and another new play. Before joining the Standard in 1991, de Jongh was at the Guardian for nearly 20 years, starting as a general reporter before becoming arts correspondent and then deputy drama critic to Michael Billington. He’s also the author of Politics, Pruderies and Perversions, which won the Society of Theatre Research Prize in 2001, and Not in Front of the Audience, a history of homosexuality on stage.

At the Duchess, Plague Over England will be followed by a two-week musical filler season of Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years and Jonathan Larson’s tick… tick… BOOM!, prior to the Chichester Festival transfer of Ronald Harwood’s pair of Second World War plays, Collaboration and Taking Sides, which star Michael Pennington and run in rep from 20 May to 22 August (See News, 18 Feb 2009).

- by Terri Paddock