Must the show go on? Yes, says the producer the critics love to hate

Theatre impresario behind Hemingway flop takes his 'Iron Mask' to New York
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The Independent Culture

His first attempt at a West End musical, Behind The Iron Mask, closed 78 days early after being panned by critics as one of the worst productions in living memory – a "relentlessly, agonisingly third-rate" piece of theatre with "vile" lyrics and characterisations that would take "platoons of psychologists to unravel".

His second effort, Too Close To The Sun, was similarly ridiculed when it opened last week, with critics calling it a "rubbish heap of a show" with "resolutely tune-free" songs. It is due to close on Saturday after just two weeks.

Now, bloodied but undeterred, the writer and composer Professor John Robinson is in the process of reworking his original West End turkey – based loosely on The Man In The Iron Mask by the French novelist Alexandre Dumas – in the hope of taking it to New York.

The website of Robinson's self-founded theatre company GBM Productions announced: "Plans are now in progress to take a new production of Behind The Iron Mask, with a completely new libretto by Roberto Trippini, to New York where a 90-minute showcase has already been performed at a New World Stages theatre."

It is a particularly bold step considering that the original production, staged at London's Duchess Theatre in 2005, announced its closure just two days after the curtain rose on its world premiere. Professor Robinson, a retired aerospace engineer with no former experience in theatre, had invested £500,000 in the show.

The fact he managed to bring Too Close To The Sun, a re-imagining of the final days of the US author Ernest Hemingway, to a stage when he already had one turkey under his belt has perplexed critics, but the simple answer appears to be Mr Robinson's dedication to his art – and his ability to persuade others of its value.

A number of private investors backed the production and The Independent understands that at least one put as much as £100,000 of his own money into the project. It helped that the show was put on during the summer, when the West End is quieter than usual.

Behind The Iron Mask was a labour of love for Mr Robinson, who first came up with the idea of an adaptation in 1999, at about the time his wife died. She had urged her husband to pursue his dream of writing a hit musical. Again with help from private investors – to whom he sent a well-produced demo tape of some of the songs – he managed to raise the £500,000 needed to stage the show.

Mark Shenton, a theatre critic at the performing arts newspaper The Stage, said Robinson's determination to bring his musical to an American audience was "the triumph of hope over experience".

He added: "Nobody ever sets out to produce a show with the intention of creating a flop. What is interesting is that, having waded into the treacherous waters of the West End once with a partly self-financed flop, he tried it again, and is now trying it again. He obviously believes in his shows – but the theatre of delusion knows no end."

If Mr Robinson does manage to take his musical to the US, he might find it difficult to recruit a cast. Jay Benedict, one of the actors who was set to star in Too Close To The Sun, pulled out of the production days before press night, citing "knee trouble".

Professor Robinson did not want to comment on his future plans when The Independent contacted him yesterday.

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