Heads Up: The Infernal Comedy

Why Malkovich's latest is no 'Serial Killer: The Musical'
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The Independent Culture

What are we talking about?

A "staged performance" of monologues in the voice of real- life Austrian serial killer Jack Unterweger, who was freed after penning poetry in prison and becoming a cause célèbre among Austria's intelligentsia.

He went on to murder more prostitutes before hanging himself. This acted text is interspersed with, and overlapped by, music from Beethoven, Haydn, Weber and Mozart.

Elevator Pitch

Being Jack Unterweger: The Vienna Monologues

Prime Movers

Austrian opera, theatre and film director Michael Sturminger wrote the script and directs the show, though the idea is credited to conductor Martin Haselböck and costume designer Birgit Hutter.

The Stars

John Malkovich (Dangerous Liaisons, Being John Malkovich, Burn After Reading) plays Unterweger. Sopranos Bernarda Bobro and Marie Arnet play his victims, singing operatic arias before being seduced or strangled.

The Early Buzz

The Infernal Comedy debuted in Vienna in 2009, and is on a lengthy world tour. Variety called it "devastatingly absurd and unnerving...it's a bizarre concept, but no less bizarre than Unterweger's story." The LA Times, however, picked up on some uneasiness: "All in all it is chilling fare, and it was met with a mixed response by Austrian critics and commentators, some of whom have accused the production of glamorizing the man the city's coffeehouse intellectuals once took to their bosom."

Insider Knowledge

There are plenty of grizzly details from Unterweger's story, but strong contender for creepiest is that after his pardon he worked as a print and broadcast journalist, giving him a chance to actually report on his own crimes.

It's great that...

It's not called The Infernal Comedy for nothing: although the show sounds dark and twisted, Malkovich's monologues are also reportedly very funny.

It's a shame that...

The show may be attacked for being just what Unterweger would have wanted: a final artistic gloss on his crimes. His victims get tragic arias, but it's Unterweger who is really given a voice.

Hit Potential

Malkovich's presence should boost sales, although the monologue-and-music structure isn't the easiest sell.

The Details

The Infernal Comedy is at The Barbican, London EC2 (barbican.org.uk),17 and 18 June.