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Theatre Review: Spark, Skill & Intrigue – Blonde Poison

Theatre Review: Spark, Skill & Intrigue – Blonde Poison

This work ignites a spark that makes you want more... it's mesmerising. It also asks a loaded question, writes LESLEY STONES.

When a play makes you go away and read up about the subject, it’s either done a dismal job of telling the story or it’s introduced something so fascinating that you’re eager to find out more.

Since Blonde Poison puts Fiona Ramsay on the stage in a play by South African Gail Louw, it’s the spark, skill and intrigue that inspire you to investigate.

Louw is proving a genius at taking one woman’s story and delivering a mesmerising piece of theatre. Admittedly she’s choosing her subjects well. Last year Ramsay took the role of Marlene Dietrich in Miss Dietrich Regrets. Now she’s playing Stella Goldschlag, another striking, lusty blonde German, but one with a chilling story.

Goldschlag was a “catcher” for the Nazis, a Jew who saved herself by betraying others for a living. Technically she was a collaborator under duress. But together with her husband she became most successful catcher in Berlin, paid for each Jew she betrayed.

There are a few minor artistic deviations from the historical facts, and the result is theatrical perfection.

Ramsay is superb, easily lulling us into thinking we’re watching the woman herself, and with a perfect Jewish-German accent that never falters.

We see her age from a vivacious pretty girl into an old woman, slightly bitter and warped and a touch delusional. She sees herself as a misjudged woman who took the only option to save her parents. And herself, of course.

She’s a kettle of contradictions, a damaged prima donna wanting it all her own way; haunted by guilty accusations, but convinced that she’s the victim.

She didn’t steal, she says angrily, brushing away such insulting accusations with the twisted morals of someone who lived through horror and survived by unleashing their own. It’s a highly personal story, yet universally loaded by the question of how far any of us would go to save ourselves.

The play opens with the elderly woman waiting for a journalist she’s reluctantly agreed to meet. That part is played by the voice of James Alexander (actually playing Peter Wyden, who published her biography in 1992).

I find the American accent smarmily grating, but that’s a small irritation in this marvelous show.

The set is excellent, with her neat apartment on one side. The other half is where the story of her previous life unfolds, in a space that serves as a jail or a Berlin street. The place where horror happened, just a step away.

Tight and thoughtful direction by Janna Ramos-Violante combines with the sound effects and lighting by Alex Farmer to create stylish artistic moments that emphasise the drama.

The character insists she turned traitor to save her parents from being sent to a concentration camp. But when the Nazis lied, as Nazis do, and her parents were deported, her work continued.

Just as you find yourself sympathising, Ramsay delivers vicious flashes revealing how she reveled in the freedom and the power. She boasts how her brilliant memory for faces let her point out a blonde Jew wearing a Young Nazi outfit.

How can you really know what you would do to stay alive until you are really asked?” she says. “I know now the answer for most of us is anything.”

Perhaps if we see such powerful plays and rekindle the horror, we can avoid having to make such choices ourselves. DM

Blonde Poison runs at Sandton’s Auto & General Theatre on the Square until February 4. Tickets from Computicket.

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