Stella Goldschlag was one of many greiferin (catchers) for the Gestapo who were coerced to hunt down Jews hiding as non-Jews. A Jew herself, Goldschlag became very good at her job – infiltrating known Jewish hide outs and promising food and accommodation to her unsuspecting victims, only to hand them over to the Nazis. It is estimated that she captured 3000 Jews. Her reason for this treachery was one of survival.

Gail Louw’s Blonde Poison is an amazing tale of a very complex time. It is a powerful story, set against the backdrop of Hitler’s Germany and the horrors, the heroism and despair that existed in that time.

Well known Australian actor Belinda Giblin plays Goldschlag in a performance that has already earned her a Sydney Theatre Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role in an Independent Production.

For Giblin, Goldschlag is an example of how torture, both physical and mental can provoke extreme behaviours and choices. “And,” she says, “how far a person will go for their own survival.” The play ultimately poses the question “What would you have done?”

For Giblin, the play also has a huge resonance with what is going on in the world today, with hundreds of thousands of people in detention, being incarcerated, hunted down and killed for their beliefs, fleeing from war zones, to find themselves homeless and stateless. “We have no idea yet of the fallout, the long term damage to the psyche that these conditions will create,” she says.

Giblin is well known to Australian audiences tracing all the way back to The Box but it is this performance that ahs been heralded as her tour de force. Her initial interest was piqued when the producer, Adam Liberman, came to her with the play. “I read it and that was it,” she says.  “It was not only a brilliant and powerful piece of writing, an actor’s dream, but the character of Stella was so vivid, so complex, so visceral and with such a true, authentic voice that I knew I had to play her AND that I was right for it!  It was both a terrifying and thrilling challenge and both the producer and the director, Jennifer Hagan (brilliant!) had such faith and confidence that I could pull it off!  That was enough!”

Giblin has played a lot of theatre in the last 15 years, and a lot of that, comedy, so this was an opportunity to stretch herself a bit; to get her teeth into something a little more demanding and impactful.

“I felt a huge responsibility to honour the writer’s words and to the memory of the people in this story,” she says. “The writer, Gail Louw, came out from the UK to see it at the Opera House and I’m pleased to say, was thrilled with the production! She would like us to do it in Berlin and NY! Why not?”

This is a dynamite of a one woman show and the particularly emotionally charged journey is certainly  hugely challenging – so much so that Giblin took 2 months off all other work when she was offered the role. “I do a certain amount of research on all roles I am offered but some characters are drawn more richly than others and require more time. This role was one such,” she says.

Her process was to start working on the accent so that it would not be in the way when she started rehearsing i.e. it would be simply muscle memory. Then she began learning the 90 minute play. Giblin does not describe it as a monologue because ” it truly feels that the stage is peopled with the characters I am constantly speaking to and about!”

Further research included reading the book “Stella” by Peter Wyden from which this play is written (“Not once, but many times and I continue to read it, “); reading other relevant source material and watching many, many films on the subject.

“I have also talked to many holocaust survivors. My husband is German and my best friend, a survivor in Budapest at the age of five was relentlessly pursued by the Arrow Cross!  I visited the Sydney Jewish museum on many occasions and to my delight they booked out the theatre at the Opera House one night and held a Q and A afterwards. The response was overwhelmingly positive! So…. All of this took place before rehearsal and together with my director we pursued the intricate detail and nuance of Stella’s story.”

Blonde Poison is a harrowing work that asks many questions – questions that, on initial examination, seem intrinsically linked to Goldschlag but on a deeper level are greater than her story:  What is the price of survival? and Can a person ever be released from her past?

Blonde Poison

June 1 – 11