What: Blonde Poison
Writer: Gail Louw
Starring: Fiona Ramsay
When: June 11-29, 2024
Where: Baxter Golden Arrow Studio, Cape Town  
Producers: Troupe Theatre in association with Abrahamse & Meyer Productions
Direction and lighting design: Fred Abrahamse
Set and costume design: Marcel Meyer

Tickets:  Webtickets  

Blonde Poison by Gail Louw, performed by Fiona Ramsay, at the Baxter Studio Theatre (until June 29, 2024) is searingly brilliant theatre. Direction and lighting design by Fred Abrahamse. Set and costume by Marcel Meyer. Brilliant play. Brill production, performance, direction, design (incredible sound design).

The play was triggered (let’s not say inspired by) the true story of a Jewish woman, Stella Goldschag, who it is estimated, betrayed 3000 Jews to the Nazis. She was a narcissist, a monster and in this production of Blonde Poison, she is evoked as that – a monster. I had read some reviews of productions abroad, that she was too nuanced and worthy of more empathy than she deserves.

Under Abrahamse’s direction, Meyer’s stripped back design, this is a shattering story, jagged and barbed. Yes, we get it about Stella’s shocking story of hiding like a rat in dark spaces in Germany. In the battle for survival, she did anything to live another day. Salient to this narrative is of course, the fallibility of humans and choices made. No one knows what he/she/they would do when pushed by circumstances. Yes, we hear about the fear and anxiety of Stella and her family as they desperately tried to find a way out of Germany. They were hunted simply because they were Jews. No one would take them, give them refuge, safe passage. They were on a list for an exit permit/visa- anywhere. Their crime? They were Jews.

Yes, Stella went through unimaginable trauma. She was harassed, hounded, hunted, beat up physically (and perhaps sexually). Perhaps she was a good person who was worn down by circumstances. Perhaps, but a monster is a monster. There are no extenuating circumstance to gloss over; to forgive her actions. Yes, even if we ourselves do not know how we would respond in similar situation.  In this production, there is no doubt in the guilt of this monster. Although she is alluring and seductive in trying to woo us, there is no doubt that she is a monster, despite her denialism. Sure there is context. We see Marcel’s palimpsest of anti-Semitic graffiti and the shattered glass on the floor. But, there are no excuses in this production

Ramsay is phenomenal as Stella – the blonde seductress who used her femininity as currency. Her embrace of self-hated as a Jewish person is repulsive. Fiona nails the urbane, witty persona of this Berlin monster, her reminisces and spurting out of her narrative – regurgitating it – with style and elegance: Stella the Berlin Blonde bombshell, lusted after, adored and dueling with her demons and … plot spoiler … her estranged daughter … is conjured up in the brilliant sound design, with voice-over by Janna Ramos-Violante. Exceptional sound design and together with the stripped back, stark set, Blonde Poison transcends morality play. It is shocking and shattering.

In a tightly packed 1hr 15 minutes, the narrative is unfurled with an intensity which makes one feel that one has been smacked – not in a good away – by this horrible story with its complex emotions and circuiting of moralities. One could read up on the story on Wikipedia but this piece of theatre, viscerally punches through the layers which are lost in translation in a snippet of archived history. I will give you an example of Gail Louw’s brilliance as a dramatist: An unnerving leitmotif is Louw’s imaging of Stella’s teeth. Stella is obsessed with her beauty and her beautiful strong white teeth. We hear in the play how she was beaten. Her jaw was crushed, Years after and she is obsessive about her restored beautiful teeth and her dental health. Hiding/posturing behind the smile?

Beyond all the horror, death and betrayal of this story and the period, this image of teeth will haunt me. Gold was extracted from teeth from Jews after the Nazi gassed them. Gold was currency and here we have this woman, Stella who has used her beauty as currency and who has sold out her own people. At the end, all she can do is smirk at her reflection in the mirror and preen and rant how beautiful she still is at 70.  Ramsay portrays vividly and viscerally through the clipped upper class Berlin cultured accent, Berlinerisch, channelling a Marlene Dietrich type diva. Marlene Dietrich’s Berlin German accent remained strong, even when she mastered English and there was always an overlay of her origins. Fiona Ramsay inhabits Stella Goldschag, rather than simply playing this monster. Blonde Poison is brilliant theatre.

Glaring complicity: Fiona Ramsay as Stella Goldschlag in Blonde Poison, by Gail Louw, Baxter, Cape Town, June 2024. Fred Abrahamse’s striking lighting plot shrouds the performance space in the glow of a light, reminiscent of a Yartzheit candle (memorial candle). Pic by Fiona MacPherson. Supplied.
The star of extermination: Self-hating Jew and ardent anti-Semite, Stella Goldschlag is said to have betrayed 3000 Jews to the Nazis. Fiona Ramsay channels this monster in Gail Louw’s Blonde Poison, Cape Town , Baxter Studio Theatre, June 2024. Pic by Fiona MacPherson. Supplied.

✳ Fiona Ramsay in Gail Louw’s Blonde Poison, Cape Town , Baxter Studio Theatre, June 2024. Pic by Fiona MacPherson. Supplied.