A treat for true crime and thriller lovers, Wax, the latest play from Michael Punter, examines the life and mind of infamous serial killer John George Haigh. The tense drama about the only man to have his image in Madame Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors while he was still alive comes to Waterloo East Theatre next month. Time to book your tickets.
Punter’s tale of the man dubbed “The Acid Bath Murderer” by the tabloid press runs at the Southwark venue from 3 to 8 March 2020.
Born in 1909 and raised in West Riding, Haigh was a serial fraudster who was sentenced to multiple terms of imprisonment for his crimes. It was during one such prison term that he decided his mistake was leaving victims alive to report him and began working on the perfect way to dispose of a body. By the end of his killing spree, he claimed to have killed nine people, though he was only convicted of six murders. As he waited to be executed by hanging in 1949, he met with a young artist from Madame Tussaud’s to have his likeness sketched. Wax follows those five meetings, as a simple process of representation becomes a tense game of psychological manipulation and a charming psychopath attempts to influence how he will be presented to posterity.
Punter’s dark new work explores how murderers are made and how they attempt to remake the world around them.
Wax production images
Wax premieres at Hastings’ The Stables Theatre from 27-29 February before transferring to Waterloo East Theatre for its London premiere. It is the latest play from Punter, whose previous work includes ghost stories Darker Shores (Hampstead Theatre) and Stagefright (Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds), horror tale Skerryvore: A Tale of Terror (Old Red Lion Theatre) and comic thriller The Wolves (Paines Plough).
Wax, which stars Duncan Brown as Haigh and Joanna Flay as Tussaud’s artist Anna Gifford, is the latest production staged by Tricksy Spirits, the company founded by Punter and director Jane Richardson. They’re joined in the creative team by lighting designer Jonathan Richardson and sound designer Dave Rowland.
Wax runs at Waterloo East Theatre, Brad Street, London SE1 8TN from 3 to 8 March 2020 with performances Tuesday to Saturday 7.30pm, matinee Sunday 4pm. Tickets are priced £15. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!!
Michael Punter on Wax
I’m a bit unsettled by my attraction to the world of true crime. I suspect many afficionados are, and there’s plenty of us! I justify writing about it by recalling that theatre has always had a preoccupation with transgressive acts: from the grisly deaths of Homeric heroes recounted by Athenian poets, to the arrogant and entitled thrill-killers of Patrick Hamilton’s Rope, via the candle-lit atrocities dramatised by John Webster. Perhaps it’s what drama is best at showing us…
My own connection to this case began when I was eight years old. I’d gone to Madame Tussaud’s with a group of friends for a birthday treat. We were under strict instructions not to descend into the area known as The Chamber of Horrors. But we did, of course. And there we saw an unholy trinity in wax: John Christie, Dr Crippen and the shockingly well-dressed John George Haigh. I’m not sure if the gas mask he wore to dispose of the bodies was on his head or just placed nearby – but he became the dapper devil of many a nightmare: ‘The Acid Bath Killer’.
My mother’s family had a small greengrocer’s in Dulwich, South London. During the World War Two air-raids, it was sometimes looted. Mum has always viewed the idea of a city-in -defiant-unity-against-the-Nazis with a bit of scepticism as a consequence. There were demons in the blackout dark, and the charming Mr Haigh was one of them. Raised deeply in faith, he overturned it all to become a fraud and identity-thief, before moving onto serial murder. Jailed for a share scam, he learned much in prison, like how to dispose of the bodies of mice he’d caught. No body, no crime. But how did a choir-boy from Wakefield become the capering devil of some modern mystery play? In truth, I still don’t know. But I do think plays are the best places to ask the difficult questions about how we become who we are.