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The Diary of Anne Frank

by on 12 November 2021

Totally Engrossing Golden Revival

The Diary of Anne Frank

by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, adapted by Wendy Kesselman

YAT at Hampton Hill Theatre until 13th November

Review by Celia Bard

I was delighted to be back in Hampton Hill Theatre on Wednesday evening watching YAT’s roller-coaster production of the play, The Diary of Anne Frank, a stage adaptation of the posthumously-published 1974 book.  The opening scene takes us into Anne Frank’s terrifying world very quickly and, apart from some lighter and very funny moments, the Frank family and guests are never free of the awful reality of their situation.  This production sees the incorporation of music by composers killed in the Holocaust, thus adding another level of poignancy to this harrowing story of persecution during WWII, viewed through the diaries of tragic teenager, Anne Frank. 

The set remains the same throughout the play, the top floor of a warehouse building in Amsterdam, Holland.  About five years ago I had occasion to visit the actual building in which the Frank family and friends were holed up from 1942 to 1944.  Then I marvelled how this group of people managed to live in such cramped and unsanitary conditions.  The YAT crew show that CoVid, and its enforced absence from Hampton Hill Theatre has not dampened their enthusiasm, or their ingenuity and skills in designing a set that cleverly resembles a makeshift attic, consisting of different nooks and crannies, with a staircase that leads to a tiny attic.  The entire set is full of chairs, tables, beds, stools, complete with cooking ring and pots and pans, and a wireless.  As more and more of the cast appear the cramped feeling is complete.  The whole acting cast must be complimented by the professional way in which the furniture is re-arranged several times during the performance, thereby suggesting different times of the day that, as a by-the-by, is part of the monotonous daily routine for this group of people.  An inspired detail of this set is the pages, representative of Anne’s diary, pinned to an attic wall and outside floor level of stage.  Psychologically this establishes a narrative link between details of the diary and the people Anne writes about in her diary. 

The costumes, hair and make-up designed by The Crew, including Emily Moss and Emma Woodley, add to the authenticity of the production, while the lighting design and operation by Mike Elgey adds drama and tenderness.  There is one harrowing moment when, during some outside noises, the shadow of arm appears on the wall showing a Nazi salute.  Other occasional interruptions by outside noises of trains travelling East, sirens blaring, authentic-sounding radio broadcasts, and the low-playing musical background enhance the alarming atmosphere that pervades this production.  The penultimate scene, when Stormtroopers invade the building and physically manhandle the occupants, is horrific beyond words, coming as it does while the Frank family and companions are enjoying the taste of strawberries, convinced that the Netherlands is soon to be liberated.  Although the story of Anne Frank is most likely familiar to most members of the audience, such is the quality of the acting, that I for one was so totally engrossed in their here-and-now that the brutality of this scene was like a personal assault. 

“A diary! I’ve never had a diary. 

And I’ve always longed for one.”

The casting of characters in this production is first-rate.  A lot of thought has gone into factors such as physicality, originality, acting style and an ability to listen.  This is a production in which some actors had to play roles much older than themselves, and they managed this successfully without exception.  Some wonderful contrasts are in evidence between young middle age and youth, outgoing personality and shy, nervous demeanour, control and loss of it.  One minor criticism is that a minority of actors, though always in role, in quieter moments forgot that the audience at the back of the auditorium need to hear what is being said during such moments. 

The structure of the play shows a series of scenes representing issues and situations that Anne, played by Meaghan Baxter, went through while hiding in the top floor of this factory.  She falls in love with Peter, played by Ed Couchman-Boor, who is the son of the family the Franks are living with.   Meaghan Baxter is an absolutely perfect Anne.  She looks and behaves like a young girl of thirteen and succeeds in displaying both exuberance of optimistic youth and the fear inherent in living in confinement.  Her antagonism towards her mother is partly explained by the latter’s disapproval of much of Anna’s outgoing and at times shocking behaviour.   Rachel Nicholas as Edith Frank got the balance just right between demonstrating feelings of hurt and rejection and love caused by Anne.  Another finely drawn contrast is that between Anne and Margot played by Juliet Hill, who well portrays the quiet and loving sister but who can never overcome her fear of the situation in which she finds herself.  Physically, she seems to grow thinner and thinner as the action develops. 

A fine, sensitive performance is given by Joe Evans as Otto Frank.  He is the main stay of the group, binding them together.  The only time he shows anger is when he berates Anne for attempting to leave the top floor to go downstairs to get a pencil.  Not only is he the voice of authority in this set-up he also demonstrates control and reasoned argument.  A beautiful moment in the play is during Hannukah, a Jewish celebration, when he suddenly produces a gift he has been holding back for his wife, a musical box.  Although a young actor, Evans succeeds in presenting a very credible performance of a much older character.

Jess Hunt as Petronella Van Daan is a personality larger than life.  The relationship between her and husband, Herman Van Daan, played by Anton Agejev, is complex.  For most of the action the audience wonder why she ever married him, but then when he breaks down after the stealing of bread incident, we see a very different side to Petronella’s personality, a much gentler and kinder one.  This is a mature and believable performance by both actors.  Peter, played by Ed Couchman-Boor, is sensitively acted, maturing from a shy, withdrawn young man into somebody much more confident.  The developing relationship between him and Anne is beautifully portrayed by these two actors. 

The actor who introduces a note of light relief is Mr Dussel, the dentist, played by Daniel Siner.  This actor has a sense of the ridiculous and this is well demonstrated in some of the scenes with Anne and also with Petronella when attempting to undertake some dental work to her mouth.   In smaller but important roles are the outside helpers, Issy Ali as Miep Gies and Daniel Burley as Mr. Kraler.   

On reading through the programme I was interested to learn that this production is performed some fifty years after YAT’s first staging of the play.   The thought struck me was that those other young actors would now be approaching their 70’s and even in their 70’s.  I should love to be a ‘fly on the wall’ between a possible discussion between both sets of casts. 

Well done YAT for providing another production that totally succeeds in drawing an audience into a play that is harrowing in its content and one that still speaks to an audience in the 21st century.   

Celia Bard, November 2021

Photography by Jonathan Constant

One Comment
  1. George Baxter permalink

    Powerful and moving. Terrific use of the stage. Performances way beyond the ages of the actors. The end seen was harrowing and poignant. The red shoes element left me emotional.
    Well done to all concerned for a memorable performance, told so well.
    The memory will stay with me.

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