John Malkovich to play serial killer in Barbican concert

The life story of Jack Unterweger – an Austrian serial killer who strangled prostitutes with their bras and became a cause célèbre after writing poetry in prison – has been compared to those of Josef Fritzl and Jack the Ripper.

Now, the Barbican Centre's artistic director, Graham Sheffield, has called Unterweger's life story an apt tale for modern times. The Barbican Hall is set to stage his story as a theatrical concert put to music against a baroque orchestra and two sopranos. The actor John Malkovich takes the lead role, though he does not have a singing part.

The Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a Serial Killer, to be staged next June, was first performed in 2008 in Santa Monica, California, where it received rave reviews. Nick Kenyon, the manager director of the Barbican, described it as a "21st century melodrama". Mr Sheffield said the story bore echoes of serial killers in the news recently, including the case of the father from Lincolnshire (dubbed the British Fritzl) who repeatedly raped his two daughters. "It [the concert] has a curious similarity to the Fritzl case but it was not inspired by it," he said.

Written by Michael Sturminger, it received a mixed response when it was staged in Vienna last year, some critics accusing the production of glamorising Unterweger's story. Thomas Jorda wrote in the newspaper Die Niederösterreichische Nachrichten: "When he [Unterweger] is represented by Mr Malkovich on stage as he strangles prostitutes with their bras, he can continue to be sure of being able to count on this society's applause."

Unterweger was first convicted of strangling a woman with her bra in 1974, but he was released in 1990, partly owing to a campaign by intellectuals who regarded him as a fine example of rehabilitation. He became a minor celebrity but within months he was suspected of killing several prostitutes in Vienna, Graz, Prague and Los Angeles before being arrested in Miami. After being convicted of 11 murders, he committed suicide in June 1994.

In the concert, Unterweger returns from the dead to launch his autobiography. Malkovich will perform a series of monologues, one dealing with his sex life after his release from prison. He tells how he was endlessly pursued by women ("One paid my rent, another paid my electric"), and recounts a barrage of phone calls from strangers ("There were quite a few others who simply wanted to fuck a murderer"). His words will be accompanied by the music of Beethoven, Haydn, Weber and Mozart.

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