Less than two days after opening and following generally damning reviews this week, the new historical musical Behind the Iron Mask has posted closing notices at the West End’s Duchess Theatre. Opened on 2 August 2005 (previews from 20 July), the three-hander starring former Three Degrees singer Sheila Ferguson had been booking until 5 November. It will now finish on 20 August 2005.
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. In the musical, 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. Ferguson, who plays the gypsy, is joined in the cast by Robert Fardell as the prisoner and Mark McKerracher as the jailer.
Despite the rapid closure announcement, the musical has already lasted longer than some predicted. The Independent’s critic Paul Taylor wrote in his review, “There have been musicals that have closed after a couple of performances. But Behind the Iron Mask looked at times as though it was going to close before the interval on press night. There were weird, vacant moments when it seemed to run completely out of steam, as though, like its audience, it was losing the will to live.”
A spokesman from GBM Productions Ltd said: "It is with great regret that we announce the closure of Behind the Iron Mask at the Duchess Theatre. The current state of the West End has meant many shows are discounting to keep running. It has been difficult for a new musical to sustain sufficient audience levels and meet its running costs."
No further productions have yet been announced for the Duchess Theatre.
- by Terri Paddock