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Camden Fringe 2013

Blonde Poison

Gail Louw

Genre: Solo Show

Venue: Upstairs at the Gatehouse


Low Down


 Gail Louw’s play about Stella Goldschlag is a powerful examination of what motivates us in our actions. Blonde Poison tells the story of a young German Jewish woman who betrayed thousands of fellow Jews during WWII by revealing their identities to the Gestapo. Decades on, she has agreed to be interviewed by a journalist about her actions and her experiences, but can she ever be released from her past?


Gail Louw’s play Blonde Poison tells the true story of Stella Goldschlag, a young German Jewish woman who betrayed an estimated 3,000 fellow Jews during WWII by revealing their whereabouts to the Gestapo. Living illegally in war-torn Berlin and having suffered torture and interrogation at the hands of the Nazis, Stella agreed an exchange: she and her parents would be saved deportation to Auschwitz if she became a ‘Greifer’ for the Gestapo, leading them directly to the hiding places of countless underground Jews, where their inevitable fates would be met. A victim of fascism as much as she was a spy, a persecutor, and an informer, Stella – given the name ‘Blonde Poison’ by the Nazis in reference to her Aryan hair colour – now awaits the arrival of Paul, a young journalist and former acquaintance, eager to interview Stella about the choices she made in her past.

With superb direction by Tony Milner, Elizabeth Counsell captivates, excelling in the role of Stella. It’s a spell-binding, uncomfortable 90 minutes of entertainment. Uncomfortable in the best possible way – the complexity of the human condition and the fragility of a woman who can barely now live with her past actions is palpable. Counsell captures the essence of this woman with verve, nuance, and feeling.

The setting is a sitting room in Stella’s Berlin apartment, with two chairs flanking a coffee table, and a cabinet behind with an overhanging mirror. Kenneth Mellor’s straightforward set serves the purpose well. There are no scene changes, no lighting changes, no background music, nothing to distract the audience from the all-consuming nature of the subject matter and the solo performance.

Louw’s brilliant script focuses on the personality of Stella as a whole. On the one hand there is the attempt at self-justification and a lesson in understanding the realities of surviving life as a Jew in Nazi-occupied territory. On the other hand we are confronted with a woman who is still overwhelmingly preoccupied with her looks, her sexual conquests, her loneliness, and her own suffering.

The character of Stella is one we admit to sympathising with because of her exposure to betrayal, her initial good intentions under interrogation, the subsequent torture she suffered, the ten years of hard labour, her daughter snatched from her arms at four months old and thrust into care, and her now grown-up daughter’s antipathy towards her. But we still dislike and judge her in her arrogance, her delight in her beauty and her straight teeth, her continual rejection of her own Jewish heritage, and of her decision to assist the Gestapo. It appears that when she revels in the attention she once received for her blonde good looks, the self-absorbed arrogance on her part is just an attempt to put off asking herself the inevitable question she assumes will be asked by the journalist: “but how can you live with yourself?” 

Louw creates a setting for self-interrogation. The journalist is never needed. Stella is positioned as both interviewer and interviewee. She is creating her own opportunity for redemption in trying to reconcile herself with why she betrayed the Jewish-German population all those years ago.

This is a fascinating performance of a well-written, intriguing play about a woman who will easily spark judgement and opinion. But it’s a humanising tale, and it asks questions, many questions. Asked by none other than Stella herself.