Blonde Poison

Gail Louw's best-known work, Blonde Poison, forms part of a four-play season devoted to her work at the Playground Theatre. Fiona Ramsay plays the title role, a nickname given to the historical character Stella Goldschlag by the Gestapo.

Remarkable and fascinating rather tan emotionally engaging

The starkly minimalist set by Marcel Meyer is startling. Brilliant white flooring descends from half-way down the rear wall to front stage, covering the central third of the stage. Either side is black, although not off limits. A solitary carver chair awaits Ramsay’s arrival along with a pair of elegant high-heeled shoes, a reminder, perhaps, of the possessions Jews took with them as they were banished from their homes and later stripped of.

Equally stunning is Ramsey’s entrance. With cat-walk precision she approaches the chair, dressed in white with period toque hat, and takes her place. The symbolism of purity and innocence inherent in white is yet another cover-up for what lies beneath and the dark deed she committed. A model never loses her poise and even at seventy-one, Goldschlag has forgotten nothing of what she once had and was. She revels in the glamorous; the grotesque she rationalises, both in preparation for an impending interview in order to live with herself. That interview might have been a gripping, confrontational debacle, more penetrating and placing her under greater pressure to account for herself than the warm-up we witness. This is her rehearsal; her time to go over the ground her former friend from school days, now a journalist, will certainly question her about.

For now, we hear only his voice repeat a line she must have heard so many times and poses the question she has endured for so many years: “How can you live with yourself?”

She spent ten years in prison after the war, a small price to pay, many would say, for the 3000 fellow Jews she identified, betrayed and surrendered to the will of the Gestapo. Now we are in the 80’s and in chilling tones she explains that she was survivor; a woman blessed with exceptional beauty worthy of an Aryan; a woman who was prepared to use that gift to save herself and in a failed attempt to shield her parents too.

Before we descend in vitriolic condemnation of her and the path she chose, her side of the argument invites us to put ourselves in those tragic shoes and ask what we would have done to survive. If it had not been her the Gestapo chose, it would have been someone else. She had the chance to save herself and took it; to forsake her Jewish heritage, collaborate with the enemy and live to tell her only child. Except that while she can live with herself and rationalise her actions her daughter wants nothing to do with her; another price she paid for her deeds.

Ramsey has an exceptional German-Jewish accent and is so immersed in the role as to make us think that we are in the presence of Goldschlag herself. Gail knows this territory well. She was born into a Jewish family in South Africa and lived in Israel before moving to the UK in 1976. Her maternal grandparents died in a concentration camp so stories handed down and an inherited culture are evident in the writing. Director Fred Abrahamse adopts a simple approach to the play, allowing the text and performance to do the work without distractions, indulging both the pathos and the humour. Such sounds as there are enhance the various moods.

Ramsey gives a solid performance that ranges from laughter to tears. The script tells a woeful tale, yet it rarely pulls at the heartstrings and we are left with a story that is remarkable and fascinating rather than emotionally engaging.

Reviews by Richard Beck

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The Blurb

Blonde Poison is a gripping play by Gail Louw. The play deals with themes of betrayal, survival, beauty and treachery in a world beset with mistrust and espionage.

Stella asks a simple question: "What would you do to survive?" That is the question that binds us all. Adapt or die, and so Stella transforms and chameleons into something that is not Jewish and she survives...Find yourself gripped and enthralled by Fiona's performance of Stella.

Multi-award-winning actress Fiona Ramsay plays Stella Goldschlag, living illegally in war-torn Berlin where she was betrayed, beaten and tortured. When offered the chance to save herself and her parents from the death camps, she became a greifer or catcher for the Gestapo giving information and ratting on Jews in hiding. Stella’s character ranges from a tortured and pitiful victim to a callous cruel agent of death, from a beloved and loving daughter and to the pitiless betrayer of friends and from gentle and tender lover to a woman of depraved and decadent promiscuity. She was dubbed the Marilyn Monroe of Berlin and awarded the alias Blonde Poison by the Gestapo, who embroiled her in the murky world of treachery.

Decades after the war, Stella agrees to an interview with a childhood friend, now a respected journalist – which offers her a last chance at redemption. Can she ever be released from her past? Despite the choices Stella made she is not necessarily a villain, and Stella forces the audience to confront our own humanity, raising questions of ethical and moral choice and acknowledging the cruelty that resides within us all.

Set against the backdrop of the Holocaust, Blonde Poison is a morality tale posing the central question: What would I have done in her place? The play encourages us all to confront our humanity, and the choices we make when threatened with certain deportation, possible displacement, vicious persecution and the horrors of war.

Blonde Poison has been performed in eight productions throughout the world, including at the Sydney Opera House, in LA and Berlin. It won an Argus Angel Award for Artistic Excellence in Brighton.

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