Review: Plague Over England

By John Nathan, March 13, 2008

Finborough Theatre, London SW10

Some said that the reviewers would go harder on a play written by one of their own. To my mind, the greater danger was always that reviewers would pull punches for this debut by the Evening Standard critic Nicholas de Jongh.

Happily though there is no need to punch. Set mainly in 1953, De Jongh’s engrossing play is based on the real-life arrest of Sir John Gielgud (played by Jasper Britton) in a Chelsea public toilet for importuning men for immoral purposes. Though he sails rather too close to impersonation, Britton’s emotionally detached Gielgud is very good. The real portrait here however is of a country plagued, not with homosexuals, but homophobia.

De Jongh pulls into his story not just the actor who suffered from the persecution, but the British judges and politicians who sought to compete with McCarthy’s anti-gay witchhunts in America. Tamara Harvey’s production manages to transmit the fusty 1950s while keeping the play’s satirical edge.

Tel: 0844 847 1652

Last updated: 11:48am, May 20 2008