Feast Will Be Gielgud in De Jongh's Plague Over England in the West End

News   Feast Will Be Gielgud in De Jongh's Plague Over England in the West End
Michael Feast will play John Gielgud, and Celia Imrie will play Dame Sybil Thorndike in the West End transfer of Nicholas de Jongh's Plague Over England.

The production will begin performances Feb. 11 at the Duchess Theatre prior to an official opening Feb. 23 (instead of the previously announced Feb. 16) for a run that is currently booking to May 16. It replaces Buddy, which ends its run at the Duchess Feb. 7.

Also in the cast are David Burt, Simon Dutton (as producer Binkie Beaumont), Celia Imrie, Hugh Ross, John Warnaby, Michael Brown, Steven Hansell, Sam Heughan and Leon Ockenden.

The play, authored by the Evening Standard's chief theatre critic Nicholas de Jongh, received its world premiere at the fringe Finborough Theatre in Earl's Court, where it opened officially Feb. 29, 2008, and ran to March 22, 2008. The play is based on the real-life incident in 1953 when the late John Gielgud, then at the height of his fame as an actor, was arrested in a public lavatory in Chelsea, and pleaded guilty in court for the charge of persistently importuning men for immoral purposes. His conviction caused a sensation and threatened the continuation of his career – but it also helped break the great taboo upon the general discussion in the national press of homosexuality, which was then an illegal practice in Britain.

According to press materials issued at the time of the original production, the play is "more than just a dramatisation of a scandalous event in one actors' life," but also "suggests that the response to Gielgud's conviction reflected the anxious political and social mood of the time. Britain had begun to follow America's lead in regarding homosexuals as potential security risks, and judges, politicians and policemen expressed alarm at the rise in the number of cases coming before the courts. Gielgud's conviction played a small but distinct part in the long battle to make homosexuality legal. The play captures the spirit of Britain in the early 1950s – when judges, politicians and doctors were describing homosexuality in terms of a cancer, an epidemic and a threat to national life – and offers an extraordinary insight into the dramatic changes in social attitudes to gay life in the last fifty years."

Michael Feast, who plays Gielgud, starred opposite the late actor in the original production of Pinter's No Man's Land at the National and in the West End in 1975-76. He was most recently seen on the West End and on Broadway stage in Macbeth, playing Macduff opposite Patrick Stewart in the title role. Celia Imrie, who plays Sybil Thorndike, was seen in three series of the BBC TV drama "Kingdom" with Stephen Fry and the long running sitcom "After You've Gone" with Nicholas Lyndhurst. Her last West End role was in Acorn Antiques – the Musical, re-creating the role that she had created in Victoria Wood's original TV series As Seen on TV, in 2005 at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. The play is directed by Tamara Harvey, who directed the acclaimed tHe dYsFUnCKshOnalZ! at the Bush Theatre. Her many other credits include working alongside Terry Johnson on productions of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, two West End runs and U.K. tour), Whipping It Up (Bush and West End) and The Graduate for a U.K. tour.

The production is designed by Alex Marker with lighting by James Farncombe, sound design by Theo Holloway and original music by Alexander S. Bermange. The West End run is produced by Bill Kenwright and Ambassador Theatre Group.

Nicholas de Jongh has been theatre critic of the Evening Standard since 1991, and prior to that was deputy theatre critic to Michael Billington on The Guardian. His books include "Not in Front of the Audience," a history of homosexuality on stage; and "Politics, Pruderies and Perversions," a history of theatre censorship in the U.K., which won the Society of Theatre Research Prize in 2001, and which he dramatized for a performance at the Royal Court in 1996. He also contributed a one-act play to the Royal Court's May Days season in 1991. Prior to its premiere production at the Finborough, Plague Over England received a rehearsed reading at the Royal Court Theatre directed by Dominic Cooke.

To book tickets contact the box office at 0844 412 4659.

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