Powerful telling of classic tale

Edith, played by Kerry Peers who can still find the will to smile with daughter Anne Frank, played by Amy Dawson

The Diary of Anne Frank

Wolverhampton Grand

****

IN Shalom Auslander's novel Hope: A Tragedy an elderly Anne Frank is discovered in an attic.

Having actually survived the war, she has been kept hidden away on the advice of a worldly-wise publisher who points out that sales of her diary could drop substantially were Anne to be found alive.

It is an indication of how strong a hold That Diary has on our consciousness that Anne will always be a teenage Jewish girl cooped up in an attic attempting to escape the Nazi killing machine.

With her diary having sold more than 30 million copies, Anne is a human face on a massive tragedy which is just too terrible for most of us to comprehend.

Easier to empathise with the laughing picture of a young girl with dark curly hair and her scribblings in a teenage diary than six million people wiped off the face of the earth.

But, as with all such individuals, there is a risk that we forget to see her as a real teenager, that we deify her into a young martyr whose humanity is lost in a larger message.

Which is why this production of The Diary of Anne Frank is so refreshing. We are given an Anne so full of life it is hard to contain her within that attic in Amsterdam.

Amy Dawson plays the role of Anne with bucket-loads of enthusiasm

She is impulsive, generous, boisterous, and loving but also disrespectful of others' space, confused, jealous, loud and sometimes downright rude. In fact as typical as any typical teenager can be in untypical circumstances.

Played with bucket-loads of enthusiasm by Amy Dawson, it has to be said that living in an attic with this Anne Frank would have been hard work!

The claustrophobia of the tiny space, and the endlessness of the waiting from the eight people trapped inside, only serves to heighten and stain relations – being a victims of circumstance does not turn people in to saints.

Trying to keep the peace is Anne's father Otto, played by Christopher Timothy. He is a gentle and loving man, determined to do what is right, despite the provocations.

Feeling the strain much more is his wife Edith, played by Kerry Peers, whose battles with hopelessness are among the most poignant moments of the drama.

Sharing the space are the volatile van Daan couple (Steven Pinder and Sarah Ingram) and their son Peter (Robert Galas) who becomes the object of affection for Anne. And the family are finally joined by dentist Dussell (Dominic Gately) who has to share a bedroom with the chatty teenager.

Designed by Morgan Large, the set makes imaginative use of the stage so that we feel the narrowness of the walls in which the families live yet the story itself is not constrained by space.

Christopher Timothy plays Anne's father Otto, the only one of the group to survive the war

And hanging in the air are the reminders of all the family have left behind – simple objects like a bicycle or a swing are emblematic of the childhood Anne should have been living.

Directed by Nikolai Foster, the production does not let up for a moment, winding the three families into increasing tautness as food runs short, tempers fray and fear oppresses. As the Nazi stranglehold outside tightens, the fear grows that they may never escape back into their old lives.

With most of the play being dialogue blended with occasional snatches of reading from the diary we are constantly pulled back to the book which brought Anne's story to the world.

At the close of the drama Otto, the only one of the group to have survived the war, tells us the fates of those people we have watched for the last ninety minutes. And it is a grim roll call.

This is a powerful telling of a classic story. Raising all the questions of how anyone would cope with such a terrible situation, it also shows us both the real evil but also the incredible goodness in humanity. To 10-03-12

Diane Parkes 

Meanwhile over the page . . .

***

THE hardship suffered by eight Jewish people hiding from the Nazis in the secret annex of a property in Amsterdam during the Second World War is revealed in this compelling drama.

It came to light through the diary penned by 13-year-old Anne Frank during more than two years that the group were helped by a loyal friend to avoid the seemingly inevitable capture by the German occupation troops.

Amy Dawson gives an impressive performance as the daughter of former German banker Otto Frank (Christopher Timothy) who moved to Holland and set up his own business believing his family would be safe from the growing threat against the Jewish population.

But this particular production never quite shows the terror the two families and dentist Albert Dussell must have felt waiting for the clatter of jackboots on the stairs. That may be something to do with the decision to have a uniformed German officer sitting in a corner of the stage while the story unfolds, and there is almost a feeling of anti-climax when he eventually wanders into the annex to arrest the fugitives.

Only Otto survived to the end of the war, and the play ends with Timothy, front of stage, revealing the fate of the others.

The diary closes on 10-03-12.

Paul Marston 

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