The Wax Museum wants to be a magical experience. Harry Potter tries to lure in passing trade by brandishing his wand at passers by on Celetná. A teenage Hogwarts fan stops to have her photo taken with the bespectacled boy wizard – but doesn’t bother to venture inside.
In the window on the opposite side of the entrance, Charlie Chaplin sits slumped under his bowler hat wearing a despondent expression. I fear this is the effect that wandering around this gallery of waxworks will have – especially when I learn I can buy a combined ticket to the torture museum.
An omen perhaps?
The main problem with the Waxworks museum is predicable enough: too many of the mannequins just don’t look enough like the flesh and blood originals. Princess Diana looks positively butch despite the tiara. Winston Churchill’s trademark fat cigar has been reduced to a skinny stub which he seems to be chewing rather than smoking. Brezhnev looks more like a chubby Ronald Regan than the medal-loving Marshal of the Soviet Union. It’s hard to tell whether Adolf Hitler, another star of the dictators’ gallery, has been captured in a moment of passionate oratory or is being surprised by a bayonet up the back passage.
Of course it’s not easy to make a convincingly life-like model of someone in wax. Just one figure featured by the world-famous Madame Tussauds costs £150,000 (around 4.5 million CZK) and takes four months to produce. The Tussauds team do not use wigs; each strand of hair is individually attached for maximum realism. By contrast, the Prague-based models all sport fake hairpieces, some more obviously than others. Andy Warhol’s crazy grey mop looked ready to slide off his scalp as is Elton John’s – although given how awful some of the toupees sported by the 70s music superstar were, that just might be accurate.
One way of sidestepping the challenge of creating wax models which recognizably resemble their real-life counterparts is to depict people who lived long before the age of photography. That way, as there’s no reliable record of what your subjects actually looked like, the sculptors are under less pressure to come up with an accurate depiction.
On the museum’s ground floor, there’s clear evidence the gallery’s owners have certainly tried to adopt this strategy. Once you’ve turned the first corner, you find yourself face to face with an imposing Jan Žižka sporting a giant fur hat and an eye patch while brandishing an axe. Next to him is Jan Hus clad in austere black but frankly the statue on Old Town Square is of more interest – and you can see that for free.
There’s nothing wrong, of course, with dedicating a proportion of the museum to figures from the past. However, if a large proportion of your visitors are foreign tourists – and judging from the museum’s promotional material, that’s the aim – then how can they be expected to know who Hus or Žižka were? There’s no explanatory information in either Czech or English which seems a real shame if the attraction wants to bring in local families hoping to teach their kids something about their nation’s history.
My favorite room was the hall of artists and musicians: Czech composer Bedřich Smetana was instantly recognizable; the pasty faced Mozart at the other end of the piano was not. I liked the eclectic range of characters featured here: Alphons Mucha was hard at work on one of his Art Deco masterpieces in an alcove while Smetana tinkled the ivories and Capek and Kafka exchanged literary chitchat. The model of Emperor Franz wins the prize for best handlebar moustache although he should watch out for that Czech anti-hero Švejk who seems perfectly poised to lead a charge into his shins.
Madame Tussauds has its share of politicians and historical personages but it’s the chance to peer at Hollywood A-listers up close which makes it one of the most popular tourist attractions in London. However, in this Czech version, there are only a handful of “celebrities”. Worse still, anyone under the age of thirty would be hard pressed to identify them. Arnold Schwarzenegger is now better known as Governor of California rather than the Terminator, Jack Nicholson may still have charisma but he no longer has megastar status and surely former Ceskoslovensko Superstar winner Aneta Langerová has been superceded by other reality show hopefuls?
For these reasons, I find I’m unable to wax lyrical about the Waxworks Museum. It offers little entertainment value – unless you enjoy playing ‘spot the least realistic mannequin’ – and is best given a miss even though the entrance fee is somewhat lower than many of the commercial tourist museums.
Have you visited the Waxworks Museum? Do you agree that it leaves much to be desired or do you think there’s still a place for an attraction full of static models despite the fact we live in an era of CGI special effects and 3D TVs? Let us know what you think in the comments section!
Wax Museum Prague
Celetná 6, 110 00 Prague 1
Open daily 10am – 9pm
Entrance fee: 150 CZK for adults, 80 CZK for children