Blonde Poison

Scott Wallace
30th Apr 2016

After an acclaimed run at Sydney's Old Fitz Theatre last year, Jennifer Hagan's production of Gail Louw's stunning one-woman play Blonde Poison has a new home at the Sydney Opera House. Sole star Belinda Giblin returns to tell the true story of the tortured and complex anti-hero Stella Kübler (née Goldschlag) through gripping soliloquy. 

Now an old woman, awaiting a visitor from her childhood, Stella paces around her tiny flat. She sizes herself up in the mirror, examining how she's aged, and her musing leads her down a path of painful self-reflection. Belinda Giblin wholly inhabits the character, from her rasping German accent to her odd quirks of character that quickly make the audience feel that she's not the most reliable narrator. Giblin does an incredible job of playing such a difficult character.

Stella's outlook is one that has been twisted and mangled by the horrors she saw as a young Jewish woman in Nazi Germany. She tells of how she eventually became a greifer, a Jew who turned others into the Gestapo in exchange for safety. The audience at once both pities and inwardly condemns this woman, seeing through the arrogant façade that is a manifestation of self-hatred and extreme guilt. Within the context of this play, Stella represents the ways in which humans are, by their very nature, seduced and overtaken by promises of power and authority.

What is especially remarkable is that Louw's play, in the hands of director Hagan and the powerhouse Giblin, makes a broad point about humanity and the very nature of fascism without reducing Stella to a caricature or a cipher. Throughout Blonde Poison, she is a fully realised character whose fears, motivations and inner conflict can be read distinctly and eloquently. 

Giblin is assisted by sound effects and minimal music, as well as lighting that dims and brightens at pivotal moments. These touches, as well as her expressive, increasingly frantic and erratic performance enlarge the small, beautifully decorated set and enhance her monologue in subtle and very effective ways. The control of mood and tone is wonderful to behold, as light humour in the play's beginning gives way to darkness and desperation as Stella delves (almost involuntarily) into her past.

It's not often that you see a stage production with this much dread and spellbinding rhetorical power, and it is made even more of a stunning achievement by the fact that it consists of only a single performer, playing off only the words that she speaks and the objects around her. Blonde Poisonis an unforgettable experience, vividly exciting the imagination and making the audience feel the same desperation and conflict as its central character does. Whether she is a martyr or a monster, long after Stella Kübler speaks her final words, you will still be thinking about her. 

Blonde Poison is on at the Sydney Opera House Studio until Thursday May 12. Head to the Sydney Scoop calendar for performance times. Production photos by Marnya Rothe.