The Diary of Anne Frank

Tue 22nd – Sat 26th May 2012

reviews

Rachel Hutchings

at 23:18 on 22nd May 2012

1agrees

1disagrees

Staging a theatre production of a diary can sometimes be difficult, as the cast and crew are faced with a need to sustain interesting action, as well as managing to convey the inner emotions and feelings of the author, without resorting to a mere series of voiceovers. 'The Diary of Anne Frank' began with a voiceover from the start of the diary, describing the journey to and beginning of the ‘adventure’ of the secret annexe. Being originally faced with this, I was concerned that this would be what the entire play would consist of. However, despite occasional excerpts from important stages in the diary, the majority of the play was performed in a set, mimicking the claustrophobic setting demonstrating the intense, sometimes antagonistic relationships between the inhabitants, and there was a good balance between Anne’s personal reflections, and scenes described in the diary.

The script and general production were okay, with a good balance between sentimentality and humour, particularly offered by the relationship between Mr and Mrs van Daan (Steven Pinder and Sarah Ingram), whose volatile marriage provided a backdrop for some comic relief amongst the tragedy of the story. The set also was good, minimal props and furniture simulating the closeness of the environment, the actors never actually leaving the stage but merely sitting at the side at times when they were supposed to be out of the main room and the consistent presence of a German soldier poised slightly out of the way, created a persistent underlying threat of discovery. A bicycle and swing suspended from the ceiling, posters of Hollywood movie stars and the bookcase also served to highlight the outside world and the isolation of the characters. These set pieces were however a little obvious, the bicycle seeming an odd addition as opposed to a subtle metaphor for freedom and lost innocence, as did the descent of hundreds of pieces of paper at the end signifying the end of the diary.

The script was honest without being too intense, facilitating simple scenes from the period of the annexe such as Hannukah and Anne’s inquisition into the history of Mrs van Daan’s fur coat and her previous lovers. It is a shame therefore that the script was overshadowed by some rather mediocre acting, particularly from Amy Dawson’s Anne herself, whose teenage immaturity, vivacity and playfulness was far too over the top to the point of irritating leading the audience to a dislike of the protagonist. I even overheard a neighbour describing her at the interval as ‘insufferable,’ which unfortunately detracted away from much of the potential for an intense, honest yet poignant illustration of adolescence and humanity. Even the blossoming of Anne and Peter van Daan’s (Robert Galas) relationship was blighted by the insincerity of the performance. Whether the aim was to convey the awkwardness of such a situation or not was unclear, but it did make for rather uncomfortable viewing. Saying this, the relationship between Anne Frank and her father Otto (Christopher Timothy) was portrayed well, though I believe this was due to Timothy’s performance as Otto being the most earnest of the entire production. Victoria Ross’s Margot was unfortunately wet, dreary and uninteresting; the result of these lacklustre performances being that the audience struggled to empathise with the characters, and the penultimate scene of their discovery was weakened by the lack of real emotion showed throughout the play, in spite of the tragedy of the circumstances.

Overall, The Diary of Anne Frank was an adequate adaptation. The set and script provided a satisfactory outlet for just the right mix of tragedy, humour, claustrophobia and adolescent hostility and awakening. It was a shame therefore that quite an average and at times grating cast undermined these aspects, resulting in an underwhelming mediocrity in the wake of such an important work.

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Dewei Jia

at 08:14 on 23rd May 2012

1agrees

2disagrees

How many times have you thought that something like the diary of Anne Frank is such a historical document that it is so irrelevant and only raises the overrated, old fashioned resentment against the Nazis? However, with his new production, Nikolai Foster wants to assure you that understanding of life is so touching only after faced with death, and engages you in a journey to horror and death in young Anne’s eyes and lets you feel the value of life and its ultimate freedom.

The story starts from when they just arrived their hiding place, the small ‘secret annexe’. Opened with rainfall, church bells and the voiceover of Anne, the dark, poignant, confined annexe looms with depression. Anne was touchy, chatty and naïve at that time. She drove everybody in hiding onto their nerves with her curious but ill-mannered conversation. But after two years, after tremendous mental and physical suffering, she learns to be sympathetic and amiable. However, she will not be able to write or be chatty anymore. I know you know what happened. But when you live the story with Anne, you cannot refrain from hoping what you know is wrong.

The play is largely successful due to its simplicity and consistency of the staging. It focus on the time when the families are in hiding. There secret annexe is framed by objects hung from the ceiling of the theatre, such as an old bicycle and family photos. The actors never leave the stage; they just sit around at its border when they are not needed. They are living together, as Otto Frank says, in the confined space. No matter what the drama in the centre of the stage is, for the other characters, they are constantly helplessly exposed to the audience. There is no hidden scene on this stage, neither room for privacy. The Nazi officer starts to watch the family long before they are arrested. This kind of contemplation, which is an astounding thrilling symbol about Nazi inspection, seems to indicate their looming fate.  

Some small props also have symbolic meanings. They take off their shoes because they want to be quiet during day time. Therefore, the shoes lined up at the front of the stage are always important, as longing of liberty and freedom are symbolically represented by their longing to put on their shoes. Anne made a gift from her ballet shoe laces for Peter’s companion cat. Miep brought Anne a pair of shoes because Anne is growing up. She does not need shoes during her most time of a day. But the new shoes get her first compliment from Peter, or at least give Peter the excuse to compliment her. After they are arrested, shoes are lined up, left in the centre of stage, waving their loneliness and sadness to the audience. If shoes are freedom here, then they lost their freedom forever.

By the time the hiding families learnt love, they were not able to enjoy it anymore. When we were brought through this journey and understood life, we are still aware and able to love it. Foster intended to refer his work as an alarm to any kind of genocide such as Assad. I would be rather reserved to agree on this. But he does let the audience appreciate life and love, when you are virtually so close to death and horror. It is powerful and moving that you don’t need another real life experience to understand life.

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Comments

Fen Greatley; 23rd May 2012; 19:16:21

Completely agree with you, Rachel. I'd feel as though something were lacking, were Anne not in some way exasperating - because she's so often so bloody frustrating in the book - but this Anne's portrayal was just ridiculous.

Dewei's review I find rather difficult to actually understand, which is a shame - I'd like to be able to follow the train of thought that led to such positive feedback.

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