Photos: Zo Morgan
Michael Punter’s new play, centred on the fate of infamous ‘Acid Bath Murderer’ John George Haigh, has just enjoyed transferring to the 100-seat London fringe venue, Waterloo East Theatre, following its recent world premiere at Hastings’ Stable Theatre. As well as being linked to Haigh’s activities, the East Sussex town includes ‘The True Crime Museum’ where the killer’s equipment is on display today.
Wax is set in Haigh’s cell in Wandsworth Prison as he awaits execution. During this time, artist and waxwork sculptor, Anna Gifford, visits Haigh from Madame Tussaud’s on four or five occasions to capture his likeness for a planned ‘Chamber of Horrors’ exhibit. Punter’s drama depicts those meetings and what may have happened.
Duncan Brown plays the serial killer from Yorkshire in the two-hander, while voiceover artist, Joanna Flay, takes on Gifford in her professional stage debut. Not surprisingly Haigh’s cell is sparsely filled which has led director, Jane Richardson, to focusing all the action around a plain wooden table in the centre of the room.
At first, Haigh comes across as eerily normal, while Gifford initially presents a professional front in not allowing any intimate or personal conversation or disclosure. However, by the end of the duologue it would appear that Haigh’s intention all along may have been to befriend and subsequently solicit Gifford’s help in making a last-ditch attempt to submit a plea save his life. (During his trial Haigh unsuccessfully attempted to convince the court he was insane.)
This is done by Haigh slowly convincing Gifford – over their meetings – that it ‘was another person’ who killed the people, as the real John George Haigh is a bible-reading, God-fearing Christian. Unfortunately, Gifford falls for it hook, line and sinker even submitting a letter to the Prison Governor in a bid for clemency. When the communication is also unsuccessful the real, calculating Haigh resurfaces, when he shows not to care about Gifford at all, even threatening the artist with serious physical assalt.
Ultimately it is Gifford, who still has the most precious commodity, her liberty, who has the last word as she stands up to the convicted murderer and looks him square in the eye before parting for the last time and telling him that it is in fact his victims who should be prayed for, rather than their killer.
Duncan Brown does a good job in taking us on a bit of a cat-and-mouse mystery ride with Haigh. As an audience, we never know where a scene might be taking us and, at times it is difficult not to feel some level of sympathy for him. Flay, as a perfect foil, transforms from the clipped pronunciation of Gifford’s formal and professional approach to the emotional attachment she subsequently forms through Haigh’s misdirection.