Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jul 28 – Aug 15, 2015
Playwright: Gail Louw
Director: Jennifer Hagan
Cast: Belinda Giblin
Image by Marnya Rothe
Stories of Jewish experiences during World War II continue to appear on our stages and screens with an urgency that refuses to be eradicated. The sheer volume of narratives means that there is a tendency for characters, emotions and perceptions to be conflated into a certain uniformity, providing impressions and understandings of a time that seem to vary little. Gail Louw’s Blonde Poison is a true story based on the life of Stella Goldschlag, a provocative character with incredible complexity, and whose involvement with Nazi Germany offers a powerful and controversial extension to our increasingly superficial memories of those horrific times. Louw’s writing however, fails to live up to the scintillating potentialities of the protagonist’s tales. The use of a realistic monologue format seems to restrict the amount of tension and drama that lies dormant in Goldschlag’s recollections. The shocking and duplicitous nature of her history holds the promise of a much more explosive presentation than Louw’s plot structure allows.
Direction of the work is a conservative one that dares not to depart from the script and its flaws. Jennifer Hagan’s faithfulness to the text leads to a thorough illustration of the author’s ideas, but greater gumption is required to fill in the blanks, and to elevate a play that needs more flair. Performance of the piece however, is marvellously captivating. Goldschlag is played by Belinda Giblin who is completely masterful on this stage. Her clarity of intent, along with her intelligence and agility (both mental and physical), deliver an impressive portrayal that is equal parts dynamic and intimate. Her emotions are expansive, immediate, and highly legible, but the decision to refrain from eye contact with the audience, along with the staidness of the script, prevents the work from making a connection that matches the poignancies of the actual events in discussion.
Humanity is at its most striking when revealed with its contradictions and imperfections. There is much ugliness in Blonde Poison that expose us to our own fallibilities, but it is too quick to forgive. We need to feel the gravity and realise the repugnance of the dark sides of our selves, before the light can resonate. Villains are indispensable, for they show us the truths within that we fail to acknowledge. Stella Goldschlag ultimately did arrive at confrontations with her own demons, and in those moments of malevolence on stage, poison tastes sweet, and we want more.