As Andrew Lloyd Webber prepares to premiere his musical version of The Woman in White at the West End’s Palace Theatre on 15 September (See News, 18 Jun 2004), Brian Blessed (pictured) will get in early with a stage adaptation of another of Wilkie Collins’ Victorian thrillers, The Haunted Hotel.

The new touring production launches on 6 September 2004 at Colchester’s Mercury Theatre before continuing, until 27 November, to eight further venues.

The Haunted Hotel, which has never been out of print since first being published in 1879, is set in an empty theatre where an impresario has summoned a troupe of players to enact a ghost story for private performance. Strange events are played out concerning an innocent young girl and her connection with a mysterious Countess of scandalous reputation. Collins’ story about a play within a play has been adapted for the stage by Philip Dart and Val May, who also directs.

Playing the impresario, Blessed’s stage credits have included Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Relapse, Hard Times, Cats and, for the RSC, Hamlet, Henry V and Richard III. On screen, he is best remembered for the likes of Star Wars, Flash Gordon, Z Cars and I, Claudius. He’s joined in the cast by Elizabeth Counsell as the Countess.

Following Colchester, The Haunted Hotel visits Darlington, Poole, Dartford, Eastbourne, Cheltenham, Jersey, Chester and the Theatre Royal Windsor, which is co-producing the play with the Mercury Theatre and Ivan Hale.

- by Terri Paddock