Home » London Theatre Reviews » Blonde Poison by Gail Louw at the Playground Theatre | Review

Blonde Poison by Gail Louw at the Playground Theatre | Review

I don’t know what you make of characters speaking in English in a foreign accent when it becomes apparent that the said character is effectively speaking in their native tongue. Of course, it naturally follows that a play should be spoken in a language its audience will understand. In this production, while Fiona Ramsay’s Stella Goldschlag (1922-1994) retains a German accent from beginning to end impeccably, I’m still not entirely convinced it was strictly necessary. At least in this case, it didn’t detract from the narrative, a sometimes intense story about a Jewish woman who, because of her blonde hair and blue eyes, was initially considered by the Third Reich to be one of their own.

Blonde Poison by Gail LouwDressed in white and against a white background – even the floor was white – Marcel Meyer’s set and costume design is open to interpretation. Perhaps Stella thinks she has seen the light, as it were, but listening to her, she seems to think she was right all along, or, rather, not incorrect: the Gestapo put two and two together eventually, and so it wasn’t as if she didn’t suffer. I found her recollection of solitary confinement particularly harrowing, as was a later life event, when her only child kept her word and didn’t want anything to do with her, living abroad and only once responding to various letters and attempts at reconciliation, with, “You’re not my mother”.

Her daughter’s hatred is rooted in what she, and others, perceived as acts of treachery and cowardice, though the play asks its audiences whether it’s as clear-cut as that. The Gestapo had imprisoned Stella’s parents, and would send them, and her, to a Nazi concentration camp, if she didn’t do what they asked – no, demanded – of her. So, she did what she did (all explained in the play) to save herself and her family. That Stella is bothering to recollect any of this in the first place is under the guise of an impending visit from a journalist, who wants to interview her about her past. The attention to detail is impressive – she even frets about the optimal time to start making coffee so that it’s ready and fresh for her interviewer on their arrival.

The irrationality of war makes otherwise civilised people do irrational things, and Stella lived a colourful life, which is just as well given the whole show is dedicated to her story. She had, at first, only begrudgingly given details of specific Jews that the authorities interrogated her about, repeatedly and under torture. But she eventually became a ‘catcher’, who would discover the whereabouts of the ‘Untergetauchter’ – literally, ‘submerged’, referring to Jews in hiding, and report her findings to the Nazis. Word got around the Jewish community, some of whom almost undoubtedly thought the ten-year sentence she received when tried and convicted in a Soviet court post-World War Two was too lenient, especially when so many other Jews paid the ultimate price because of her actions.

Ramsay’s Stella has a good stage presence, and a sparkling personality shines through in her descriptions of schoolboy crushes (that is, boys who had crushes on her) and various love affairs later on in life (she married five times), the details of which introduced some light-heartedness to her story without being disrespectful of the experiences of those who suffered.

Whenever I see a show wholly or partly about World War Two, I’m nearly always reminded of a taxi journey I had some years ago, in which the black cab driver, stereotypically opinionated as he was, told me in no uncertain terms that Britain, for the most part, is obsessed with it, as if we (and we alone, without the help of the Allies) had defeated Germany last week. This, however, is a very different kind of tale to a lot of Holocaust stories, because Stella’s experience was so distinct. And it is intriguing stuff, with a clear and focused narrative arc that wonderfully, if uncomfortably, demonstrates the power of storytelling.

4 stars

Reviw by Chris Omaweng

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 of saving 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.

Part of the Playground’s Gail Louw Season

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