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Previewed 20 July 2005, Opened 2 August 2005, Closed 20 August 2005 at the Duchess Theatre London
John Robinson's new musical Behind The Iron Mask in London starring Sheila Ferguson
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. Monsieur 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.
The cast for Behind The Iron Mask in London stars Sheila Ferguson as 'The Gypsy' along with Robert Fardell as 'The Prisoner' and Mark McKerracher as 'The Jailer'. With music and lyrics by John Robinson and book by Colin Scott and Melinda Walker, this stage production is directed by Tony Craven and choreographed by Conchita del Campo with designs by Nicolai Hart Hansen and lighting by Tim Mascall. Sheila Ferguson's West End credits include the Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson musical Always at the Victoria Palace Theatre in 1997.
"For 150 years or more, despite Alexandre Dumas and countless conspiracy theorists, we have never known the identity of the Man In The Iron Mask, how he got there or why. But now we have an even greater mystery: how did the show Behind The Iron Mask get as far as a first rehearsal, let alone a first night?... The real problem is what I suspect has stopped anyone else trying a musical of this subject in nearly two centuries. A man in an iron mask is not best placed to sing for more than two hours some of the most leaden lyrics devised. To suggest it is plain terrible does not do justice to its sheer, gothic, relentless awfulness, from the refusal of the score to lift off into a memorable ballad to the bizarre gay ending which suggests the gypsy, the prisoner's one true love, has been his jailer. Ferguson brings energy to a role which seems to have been drafted in when the writers realised they could hardly make do with just two men... She rescues the production whenever she enters the stage." The Daily Express
"It's not fair to kick a man when he's down - especially when the man in question is wearing a tin can on his head. So as this new musical has already taken such a critical shellacking and announced its imminent closure, I'm reluctant to pile on the agony. But duty calls, so I must report that in embroidering Alexandre Dumas's 19th century tale of the ageing musketeers and a plot to replace the King of France with his identical twin, the show's creators have produced a cast-iron turkey. The story by Colin Scott and Melinda Walker features just three characters: The masked man, held in the Bastille since birth, his jailer and a gipsy woman with whom the prisoner has a lock-up legover. No musketeers. No King Louis XIV. And no fun. As the masked one, Robert Fardell sings well enough but delivers his dialogue as if chloroformed. Not surprising, I suppose, as his head is encased in what looks like a lump of papier mache left over from a Planet Of The Apes movie. The mask means you can't see the singer's lips moving and therefore can't be certain when a song is ended. But it's never soon enough - John Robinson's tuneless tunes and stodgy lyrics mean that if you come out whistling, you'll probably be whistling the mask. Mark McKerracher is in good voice as the jailer and Sheila Ferguson, of Three Degrees fame, adds some allure, though the dance that's supposed to turn on the prisoner is about as sexy as porridge." The Sun
"Dumas's novel, The Man in the Iron Mask, on which this ghastly musical is based, is barely recognisable. It's like The Phantom of the Opera without the jokes. There are only three characters: the Prisoner, whose incarceration is never explained; the Jailer, who looks like a clean-shaven Charles Clarke... and Sheila Ferguson, of the Three Degrees fame, as the Gypsy, whose presence is hard to explain, but who finally gets into bed with the Prisoner... Ferguson swaggers a lot, which she clearly thinks is acting, and her metallic voice sounds more uncertain the higher it goes. The clumsy choreography is not her fault. John Robinson's music tries to sound dramatic but is only schmaltzy, and his lyrics match it perfectly. This show could be the flop of the year." The Sunday Times
"Seemingly inspired by Alexandre Dumas's novel, Behind The Iron Mask is a musical that would have done well to follow the example of its hero and remain anonymous in iron cladding in a French prison. Staged by the composer and lyricist John Robinson it is entirely without merit... Meanwhile, Colin Scott and Melinda Walker's book is a folly a deux, which stoops to such ludicrous lines as 'lie with me now as a man lies with a woman'. Even Graham Norton would struggle with that. As the man in the mask, Robert Fardell has the good fortune to have his face concealed and his voice disguised by a headpiece of home-made ironmongery. Mark McKerracher - as the supposedly boorish, but actually camp, jailer - can at least hold a note, but he is clearly embarrassed by it all. His best hope is that his agent never finds out. The former 'lead' singer of The Three Degrees, Sheila Ferguson, plays a Spanish gipsy on the run but looks as if she's just emerged from a pampering at a health spa. The show's prima donna in more ways than one, she can still sing, but can hardly dance and acts only fitfully. When will we see this again? Only until August 20 - because just two days after the show opened, its closure was announced. It's a cast-iron dud." The Mail on Sunday
Behind The Iron Mask in London at the Duchess Theatre previewed from 20 July 2005, opened on 2 August 2005, and closed on 20 August 2005.