It takes Fiona Ramsay no longer than five minutes to pull you into the world of Stella Goldschlag, teaming again with director Janna Ramos-Violante (who has recently relocated to Austria) and playwright Gail Louw ("Miss Dietrich Regrets") at Sandton's Auto and General Theatre on the Square in Jozi.
It's a genius performance by the skilled Ramsay in this solo show that tells the story of a young woman trapped in the horrors of World War 2 in Berlin, where she succumbs to a personal struggle for survival at the cost of other lives.
Now in her 70s, she is contacted by a journalist, an old friend, to tell her story. The play reveals the inner world of a woman fighting for her life with very few options.
From a staging vantage, it's not an easy ask. Voice-overs and sound effects are a tricky business onstage if you don't get them right. They sometimes only alert you to the fact that you're watching a play and that's where Ramos-Violante's guidance has soared.
To balance reality with make-believe can be a tough call but with this work especially with what we're faced with today, it is the reality you want to heighten – and they pull it off.
Add to that a smart set that favours the artist's free movement and imaginatively creates different spaces which allows Louw's gripping story to breathe.
It's an excellent play as it deals with specific events, facts we are all familiar with, the horror of the Holocaust, none of which appear too appealing today. But with a world in turmoil, refugees fleeing their countries because of war or climatic disasters and powerful nations determined to make the world see it their way, this is a story that reminds us what happens in times of war.
Everyone is affected and that chilling fact keeps you engaged throughout. Yet even with all the stars aligned, it is Ramsay's performance, so finely wrought, so delicately poised, so engaging that has you spellbound.
Few in theatre will not acknowledge her stage craft but what makes this such a special performance is the time it allows her to play, the proficiency it asks from the actress, all of which Ramsay so seamlessly rolls out.
As a voice coach and someone who is engaged to help international actors to acquire and perfect accents, her own is on display here magnificently. But not only that, it is a wordy text and with the accent, you had better be word perfect without slipping into mechanical mode.
Her task is also that of playing what would seem a despicable character and one who needs to justify her own existence. Many Holocaust survivors carry guilt because they're alive without causing anyone else pain or loss of life. Stella has done both.
That's at the heart of the play and Ramsay (with her director) gets it pitch perfect. Watching her unravel and explore the inner workings of a desperate soul is simply extraordinary – and she has to capture her essentially as ageless – from 18 to 70 plus.
It's theatre deluxe from the best and an encouraging start to a new year on local stages.
- "Blonde Poison" runs at Sandton's Theatre on the Square until February 4. Show times: Tuesdays to Saturday at 8.15pm and also at 6pm on Saturdays