The Old Ship Hotel is promising one of the most intriguing and atmospheric experiences of this year’s Brighton Festival - a trip back into a grim chapter in Sussex crime.
As the audience is led down a creepy stone staircase, hairs start prickling as the sounds of the 1940s echo along tunnels which stretch from beneath the hotel to the seafront.
Emerging into a candle-lit wine cellar, the audience will see a well-dressed man standing in the shadows….
But this is no ordinary 40s spiv. It is John George Haigh, who murdered at least six people and disposed of their bodies in acid in his Crawley workshop.
Dubbed ‘the Vampire killer’ (Haigh claimed to have drunk his victims’ blood), he was hanged in 1949, but not before he told his story to a frenzied media and was immortalised in Madame Tussauds, where his waxwork, wearing Haigh’s genuine suit, remains to this day.
Nigel Fairs, whose great-grandfather put the shackles on Haigh in Lewes Prison, plays the murderer, whom he describes as an “absolute charmer”.
“Witnesses who survived Haigh’s friendship say they were mesmerised by him, and that’s what we’re aiming for with In Conversation With An Acid Bath Murderer,” Nigel said. “It sounds dark but there’s a lot of humour and really the whole thing plays out like a seduction. The intimacy of the wine cellar really helps!”
Nigel added: “The play begins in Haigh’s Crawley workshop and progresses to the hangman’s cell. Suzanne Procter plays two of his victims and also his fiancé, who never suspected he was a killer.”
Louise Jameson, best known for her roles in Dr Who, Eastenders and Bergerac, directs.
“When I was asked to direct it, I have to confess I had a huge question mark over it, as it’s not a subject that would immediately grab my interest, but when I read it, I loved it. Haigh isn’t written as a mad person or a demon. He’s just someone with a different version of reality. There’s a logic to him, we even feel even empathy with him. It’s a real privilege to be working on it.”
The production runs until Saturday, May 28 at the Old Ship Hotel, Brighton, with special late night performances on Fridays and Saturdays. Tickets are available from the Brighton Festival Fringe website or 01273 709709.