By MIKE LOEWE
How nice people do despicably cruel things has become a cliche in South Africa, but Fiona Ramsay’s phenomenal performance in Blonde Poison goes a long way to answering that question.
Her delivery is seamless, her pace and pitch perfect, her Jewish-German accent is an open door catapulting the audience 70 years back into an apparently otherworld of nazi German rule.
Yet, we have blood ties to this piece. We are neither innocent nor unscathed.
The play note says South African playwright Gail Louw, now based in the UK, has penned a script about real-life Stella Goldschlag, a beautiful middle-class Jewish German who lived on the run in war-torn Berlin.
She was betrayed, beaten and tortured to the point that when offered a chance of saving herself and her parents from the death camps, she became a reviled “greifer” or “catcher”, pointing out Jews from her community, earning her the infamous title “Blonde Poison”.
In SA terms, a greifer would have translated to an impimpi.
The script explores the character of this monster and states that through Goldschlag’s story we, the audience, come to confront our own humanity, ethics and morality.
This is an extraordinary piece of solo theatre and Ramsay (who happens to be the daughter of legendary SA anti-apartheid journalist and former Rand Daily Mail editor Raymond Louw) and director Janna Ramos-Violante have gifted us with theatre which gets inside the chest, grabs hold of emotion, and leaves us shattered.
How is this story, being told in The Hangar venue only metres away from Rhodes journalism school, also our story?
Apartheid was inspired by nazism, and legislated into reality by Hendrik Verwoerd. The system reached deep down into our pscyhe. I will never forget Sergeant Khatz closing my solid cell door in Louis le Grange Square in the winter of 1986 while proudly proclaiming: “I am a nazi!”
He proceeded to lecture me on Hitler’s misunderstood finer qualities. LOL.
Today’s premier of Blonde Poison was packed out and I wondered how this story resonated with these viewers who sat in riveted, pensive silence.
This was not a jolly hockeysticks Hitler-has-only-got-one-testical play spawned by post-war British sensibility.
This was about people who happened to be Jewish trying to stay alive in the face of the total onslaught of an insanely hateful, racist, murderous regime.
Can we compare apartheid South Africa to racist nazi Germany, our security branch to the gestapo?
Certainly, our security police were efficient, invasive, and brutal and they ran a network of informers, a number of whom cracked and turned under torture. This underground network was actively infiltrated by informers, with tragic consequences.
We don’t like to be reminded about this recent past, but there are many, many untold stories about South Africans caught in the same crushing life-or-death dilemma.
We live in a complicated, murky epoch, but when systematic cruelty comes knocking, regardless of its shiny treacherous suit of promises and propaganda, those of us who lived through apartheid, we see it, and we know it.
Blonde Poison speaks to us across time about unspoken stories of trauma.
This is its critical relevance and brilliance and its rendition had Ramsay holding back the sobs as she left the stage amid a thunderous standing ovation.
l Blonde Poison is on at The Hangar today at 7pm and Thursday 1pm.