The Diary of Anne Frank
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
In the 18th century, a fire raged through a library in England, singeing but not destroying the only manuscript of the great Anglo-Saxon poem, Beowulf. Without it, our knowledge of the past would be much depleted. In the same fashion, as the Gestapo ransacked her family’s secret hideaway in Amsterdam, like a finger of flame reaching out for the Beowulf MS, in the Bedlam Theatre in Edinburgh last night the teenage Anne Frank reached out to grab her diary, but was shunted on by the brash Gestapo guard. Saved from the fires of Nazi oppression, Anne Frank’s diary would eventually resurface, a poetically written & detail-laden account of her two years in hiding that would become an international best-seller. Ten years after the war was finished, Frances Goodrich & Albert Hackett brought Anne’s diary to the stage – but their effort was seen as an inexcusable sentimentilization of a tragic & angry document. Then in the 1990s, Wendy Kesselman rewrote the play, bringing back the darker mental shades of life in captivity & incorporating more of Judaism, such as hanuka gifts & songs in Hebrew.
Last night I witnessed such emotional & theatrical clay being moulded into something quite noble by a group of young Edinburgh students marshaled into order by Marion Bretagne. In an earlier interview, she told the Mumble, ‘it is a very emotional play, not only because it has a tragic end, it is emotional because it will make the audience go through all the range of possible emotions in 1h45 min, following the 2 years of the inhabitants; Sometimes it’s really funny, because Anne, who was a very funny, very energetic girl, made a joke, and then it can before fearful, and then sad. It is a play about the Holocaust, but also a play about family, about growing up, about living in extreme conditions, about human feelings. Some might find that this script is still ‘not sad enough’, but Otto Frank approved it and he’s the supreme authority in that regard.’ As Marion says, this play may be seen as ‘not sad enough,’ but to the Frank family – & the Van Daams – their two-year stay in the secret annex was a veritable paradise in comparison to what was happening to the rest of the Dutch Jews.
If Otto Frank – Anne’s father – was wishing to remember the joviality of his daughter, then chirpy-as-a-chipmunk Lucy Davidson was perfect for the role. Over the span of two years we see her grow from a smart-arsed 13 year-old girl into a hormone-happy paragon of young womanhood. Around her smoothly hypnotic performance, the cast gave sturdy support. Her father, Otto, played by a charismatic Peter Morrison is a glimpse into how Liam Neeson would have been in his tenderer years. Katrina Wooley’s Mrs Van Daan was also quietly absorbing, but its hard to place praise anywhere really, for the cast worked together as a team, on a cramped & constantly moving stage. While in one corner, two characters were lost in silent conversation, in another corner others knitted or read. One scene in particular was perfect, where every three seconds a light burst into brightness then faded to dark, with the gerbil-like actors & actresses flurrying about the stage – as days on days were passing by. Indeed, there was a true familial energy about the cast’s onstage chemistry which really helped us to warm towards them all.
This was an excellent production, with majestically authentic wartime costumes strolling about a highly-realistic set, all interspliced with BBC radio transmissions & Hitler speeches. It would have been the perfect play, one expects, if it would have ended simply with the capture of the two families hidden in the Secret Annexe. As they are led out the stage is immersed in darkness for a thought-provoking while. Then the lights raise up again on an empty, search-scattered annex, & you’re like perfect : then Otto Frank walks through the door & proceeds to give a swift, sickly-sweet soliloquy on how Anne & the rest of his family died. Less is more sometimes, & it is a rare person indeed who is not able to project what would have happened to Anne. Despite this, I feel I have just witnessed a remarkable performance of a riveting play about a very famous event – the writing of Anne Frank’s diary.
Reviewer : Damian Beeson Bullen