Behind the Iron Mask, a new musical set in 17th-century France and starring The Three Degrees’ Sheila Ferguson (pictured), will receive its world premiere at the West End’s Duchess Theatre this summer. It opens on 2 August 2005, following previews from 20 July.

In 1669, in bizarre and mysterious circumstances, an unknown man was secretly masked and imprisoned for life by Louis XIV of France. He died in 1703, having been in four different jails, but in the custody of Monsieur St Mars the same jailer. The prisoner was allowed the best of everything and given anything he desired other than human companionship; but he was not allowed to discuss his identity or the reason for his imprisonment. St Mars was sworn to secrecy in fear of death. Due to the indiscretion of the jailer, a gypsy becomes entrapped in the relationship between the two men.

Alexander Dumas famously based his 1841 novel, The Man in the Iron Mask, on the story of Louis XIV and the masked mystery man, who many believed to be the king’s twin brother. The swashbuckler has previously been dramatised for stage and screen, most recently in the 1998 Hollywood film starring Leonard DiCaprio, John Malkovich, Jeremy Irons and Gabriel Byrne. Behind the Iron Mask has music and lyrics by John Robinson, who conceived the show, with a book by Colin Scott and Melinda Walker.

Sheila Ferguson, who plays the gypsy, was most recently seen in the West End playing Muzzy in Thoroughly Modern Millie. During her time as lead singer of The Three Degrees, the group had 28 Gold and Silver records. Her most recent album ‘New Kind of Medicine’ was released at Christmas, just after she attracted renewed attention for taking part in TV’s I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.

Ferguson is joined in the cast of Behind the Iron Mask by Rober Fardell, as the prisoner. Fardell’s stage credits include Jean Valjean in Les Miserables in the West End, Evita and Heathcliff with Cliff Richard. The new musical is directed by Tony Craven and designed by Nicolai Hart Hansen, with lighting by Tim Mascall and sound by Mark Dunne. It’s presented in the West End by GBM Productions.

Currently at the Duchess Theatre, Lindsay Posner’s revival of Harold Pinter’s modern classic The Birthday Party, starring Henry Goodman and Eileen Atkins, will now finish its limited season on 25 June (See Today’s Other News).

- by Terri Paddock