Review by Samuel Elliott
There is an ostensibly casual line, uttered early on in Blonde Poison, by its single character, Stella Goldschlag. She expresses incense at having something stuck in her teeth, unable to be dislodged, forever there and unavoidable. It would be easy to draw from that line that she is really talking about the indelible mark left on her from her ill-fated youth, from her lapsing or perhaps begrudging Jewish faith, from being identified as such during the Nazi oppression, or even from the lasting horrific consequences of what she needed to do in order to survive such hellish times.
From the outset we are introduced to a talkative, definitely prim (though with a propensity to insert the odd sexual comment) Stella, there is something amiss, teeming under the surface and yearning to be told, to be confessed. Belinda Giblin, who plays Stella, wholly gives herself to the character, earnestly conveying all her eccentricities, her untold miseries, from beginning to end in a superb and stunning performance. The character is not an easy one, much like real-life human counterparts, and as such has times of melancholy, of remorse, of shame, even the sporadic moment of joy and humour unrestrained. The play passes the first test – that of having the audience react accordingly as is meant, chuckling with the risqué lines, sitting in stunned silence during the regular moments of devastating pathos, recoiling at the play’s defining torture scene.
Fortunately, for a character so afflicted with, and stigmatised by her past, Giblin is never overwrought, never dipping toward the melodramatic as we delve toward the crux of what is both at her core and the play itself. Director Jennifer Hagan (Collected Stories, Salt) has chosen wisely with Giblin, and the performance she has directed her with. So too we benefit from a sparse (though not Spartan) furnishing of the stage, creating the drawing room of Stella’s homestead. The lone flat of wallpaper that enforces the stage, Stella’s self-regimented prison, is symbolic of her character – edges peeling, paint flaking, dirty and left to neglect, there is a fading pattern on the wallpaper that one could not be blamed for relating to the SS symbol, emblazoned prominently across the span.
The Studio of the Sydney Opera House proves to be the ideal venue for such an intimate, [claustrophobic] piece of theatre. We are tightly pressed in with Stella, almost encroaching on her as she reveals the horrors she has endured, those that she (at least considers she has been) complicit in. Such intensity of atmosphere could easily be lost in a grander, cavernous theatre.
In keeping with the minimalist set pieces, Hagan has also opted for only sparing use of lighting and sound (and when either or combined are used, they are done so to great effect). The ticking of the unseen clock, serves as a reminder of a reality slipping away that Stella finds increasingly difficult to return to, or even relate with. Oftentimes, even with a play stripped to its fundamentals and reliant singularly on the performance of a single actor, there is an emphasis on flashy sets or elaborate sound and lighting sequences. Thankfully, not so here, each instance is unsettling and memorable. The electric shock torture was as confronting as it was lasting, Hagan artfully kept it brief and kept those few instances widely apart, allowing for Giblin to enthral and yes, even to amaze.
Blonde Poison is an ambitious work that never oversteps or blunders, nor loses its audience. Giblin deserves every bit of the praise that has been heaped upon her.
When: 28th April – 12th May 2016
Where: The Studio, Sydney Opera House
Tickets: $49.90 – $74.90
Info: Join the conversation at #BLONDEPOISON2016
Website – www.blondepoison.com.au
Tickets – sydneyoperahouse.com