The Man In The Iron Mask

Photos . . . WHB – Canterbury


by Sian Napier

The huge mask which stood outside Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre from 2003 until it was demolished in 2009 has returned.

Bulkhead, to give it its real name, was moved back to the theatre in The Friars on Friday but now stands by the river in the newly-created outdoor seating area.

The mask is the work of sculptor Rick Kirby and arrived in the city as part of a sculpture festival called Blok.

It was so popular that Canterbury council bought it and had it installed by the old theatre’s forecourt where it stayed until the Marlowe was pulled down.

It was then removed to the council offices in Military Road where it remained outside until Friday.

Marlowe Theatre director Mark Everett said: “It’s wonderful that the Marlowe mask has returned to its rightful place and it was great to see it settling in to its new home by the riverside.

“The mask was always very popular with theatregoers and we know people will be delighted to see it return.”

THE IRON MASK . . . Poem by WHB

The authors in these lines of verse

Are from a distant time

From ages past into the mists

Of tragedy and rhyme.

Dumas was steeped in history

He set himself the task

Of counts and musketeers to write,

The Man in the Iron Mask

Kit Marlowe’s plays were tragedies

Of complex anguished beings

Of Tamburlaine and Faust he wrote

Portrayed their tortured feelings.

The Mask is that of Tragedy

The Greeks performed their dramas

It brings to mind Marlowe’s great themes

Which glimpse life’s endless traumas.

To me this linkage then arose

Between the two famed authors

Take or leave it for what it’s worth

It’s what this conceit proffers.

I Am Roland


Statue of Roland at Metz railway station, France.


I am Roland 
or I have become him
created the myth of Mr Keld
opportunity taken 
I have procured my host’s mind 
now an alien presence
absorbed into this foreign body
diverting thoughts 
rebuilding a past 
guessing at a further future 
a variant stated truth 
inhabiting a different reality
masking neutrality
approval seeking
in a subsumed persona
a manufactured myth
ambushed by his muse
Roland of Roncevaux
brandishing Durendal
to fight new battles
forever a mask
behind which to hide 
a second rate hero
his fable exposed
another fiction
masquerading as truth



The Man In The Iron Mask

maninmask-canterburyThis huge sculpture, with the name ‘Bulkhead’, was created in metal by Rick Kirby.  It first came to Canterbury as part of a sculpture festival called Blok.  The sculpture was so popular that Canterbury council bought it.  

At the time of my photograph, it stood outside Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre, until the theatre was demolished in 2009.  It has recently been returned to the new theatre in The Friars, but now stands by the river in the theatre’s newly-created outdoor seating area.  

The theatre takes its name from the fact that Christopher Marlowe, (1564 – 1593), the Elizabethan playwright, poet and translator, also known as Kit Marlowe , was born in the city of Canterbury.

The sculpture, of course, references  Greek Drama’s ‘Mask Of Tragedy’, this being pertinent to Marlowe’s great tragic dramas.  In subsequently thinking of the sculpture purely as a mask of iron, it then suggested to me Alexander Dumas'(1802 – 1870)  fictionalised story of ‘THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK’.   This is Dumas’ version of the story of  the unidentified prisoner who, in the 17th Century was arrested, made to wear an iron mask, and subsequently imprisoned for 34 years.   As a nod to Dumas, if not to Marlowe, I have taken the liberty of inserting a ‘man’ into the eye of the Bulkhead sculpture  (see below).