The Diary of Anne Frank

21 March 2013

The Diary of Anne Frank

Few more poignant true stories emerged from World War II than the diary of young Anne Frank. Published long afterwards by her father, the only family survivor, it records the minutiae of twenty-five months that two Jewish families spent in hiding from the Gestapo in an Amsterdam warehouse attic. The constant secrecy, growing hunger and friction of living in’such cramped conditions could not dull Anne’s vibrant personality or her passion for living.

The Diary of Anne Frank Review by Noda

Society: St Peter Players
Production: Seussical the Musical
Date: 21st March 2013
Report By: TBC

The moment you entered the theatre space you were wowed by the excellent open set created by Alan Caesar-Gordon and his team. What a talented creative crew – attention to detail and use of dressing worked well to create a stark, colourless and cramped attic. There was also a respectful atmosphere as audience took in the scene and prepared for the inevitable tragedy in the play ahead – I doubt any people coming to see this were not aware of the outcome for the central characters…. That being said, sympathetic lighting and aforementioned set and silence but for whispered murmurings of the audience set the professional level of the show, and so my expectations for performance were also high.

I was not disappointed. .

What a thought provoking, respectful adaptation the Players have created under the excellent helm of Ruth Corner as director. From the outset, little things to take in like the decision to not use accents, and varying actual ages of the actors offset against actual age of role didn’t seem to matter as audience clung to every word spoken with great diction by the cast.

And what a cast! Lots of hard work in developing relationships onstage and movement around a crowded set have obviously paid off! Haydn Davis, though perhaps using unnecessary accent lilts at times produced a heartfelt performance as Otto, his eyes portraying the intense sadness that must have affected the man himself. His warm portrayal as a father was very touching to behold and his affection for the role was telling, moving us to tears with his tears towards the end when all was hopeless…yes, we will all try and believe in ‘hope’. Well done. A fine mature and movingly sentimental performance.

As his wife, Leanne O’Reilly offered a warm (perhaps too lovely?) and sensitive portrayal of a cold woman who didn’t seem to be able to connect with her daughters. She was always true to form in developing a nervous portrayal of the matriarch at odds with the scenario and hopeless developments in the attic – I struggled to understand why her daughters would shun such a lovely mummy…but…there was great chemistry onstage with her fellow atticees…and the singing in the Passover scene was particularly moving.

Rachel O’Connell’s performance of Margot was outstanding. Her maturity for the role was perfect, acted with dignity and in no way over or underplayed the role. I was really impressed with her diction, presence and activity onstage when other discussions were taking place – she naturally was part of all scenes and seemed at home in the part. Excellent casting.

The three Van Daan’s were unevenly cast in knowing the history of the actual characters, however, role fitting aside, and knowing that best fit works, these Van Daan’s produced some wonderful moments of theatre. Knowing them, I was surprised how much I began to dislike Mr Van Dan and his selfishness,  brilliantly portrayed by Nic Barton with nervous fidgety behaviour and expressions that perfectly gave us his distaste at his actions. The wonderful Tina Barclay offered a little comic relief in her portrayal of Mrs Van Daan with her comments and asides pitched perfectly and her accent straying off into higher pitched ‘Jewish’ tones as things got more and more desperate. Steve Element as Peter gave what I think is the best performance I’ve seen from him yet.  His awkwardness with Anne and showing how asphyxiating the home life was for them as growing children was handled well and gave us some moving and reflective moments – especially in the scenes with Anne – on how it must have been to be in such a situation as a growing teen.

Dussel was played with charming nervousness by James Godwin. His awkwardness with people and the situation pervaded throughout and I felt sympathy for his portrayal. You have a great talent for comedy James, yet  it was refreshing to see you in a more serious role, handled deftly,  showing  how Dussel might have felt coming into the attic after others have a set routine, knowing no-one and feeling as if you shouldn’t have been there.

Miep and Kraler were vital to the survival of the attic dwellers and Katie Hatrick and Graham Caesar-Gordon gave their roles credence. Sometimes both seemed a little hesitant over lines but both were believable and worked well with others onstage, especially towards the end where they were trying to keep positive for the future of the families whilst informing of the growing worry of events ‘outside’. Kraler had a believable factual tone, which unfortunately sometimes fell into a downbeat rhythm, but, his presence and subsequent health decline was reassuringly consistent and portrayed with the appropriate gravitas. The end scene with Otto proved that even as a newcomer to Amdram, Katie has the developing talent to take on a serious role and make it work…hopefully we’ll see you in more in the future.

And so it falls to me to ponder upon the portrayal of Anne by the wonderfully talented Louise Audoin. The gregarious childlike nature of Anne was there for all to see and despite suspending ones disbelief somewhat in the age of actress vs actual age of character, I was truly blown away by Louise. Her wonderful playfulness at the beginning was counteracted by the slow change into love struck, attic imprisoned teen and handled with delicate maturity. Scenes with Margot and Otto shone, as did the delicate scenes with Peter, as she struggled with the situation as we would imagine any young person would. Well done Louise, an excellent performance and a wonderful accolade for you to resonate throughout your life as a personal triumph. (And knowing your mother played it too? Well. I’m sure she would have been clapping hardest with the rest of us at the end)

Costumes (Ruth Corner, Brenda Snuggs, Mike Snuggs) reflected the period and class of the characters and the scene wherein Mrs Van Daan’s fur coat gets ruined is particularly touching if you can empathise with the money that must have cost at the time, and the transparent nature of the outbursts when you reflect on their situation, for what really mattered then??? Well done to a very hard working team…from shoes to hats and jewellery and other effects, all finer detail was duly noted…

Hair and makeup (By Ruth Corner and cast) too showed a great attention to detail, and was a good indicator for the decline of characters in the play.

Properties (Joan Carr, Janeta Kling, Jane Rawlinson) were seemingly all in period, and use of them should be commended. Table setting, and furniture layout reflected exactly the intense claustrophobia of the setting.

Lighting by Les Brewer and Oli and team was sometimes off-cue with switches touched or pulled and lights out late or early, and, in my opinion, it could have been colder, starker lighting for an attic roof, but, all generally worked well.

Set as mentioned was outstanding. The beams and walls and use of the stage space perfectly reflected for me, the asphyxia of the attic. Excellent work.  My only flippant annoyance was that the curtains didn’t close on the one small, tiny window, as I thought anyone outside would see the light…even from a distance at night, and that when miming the front window, cast didn’t all go to the same place. But…tis a minor annoyance…

Sound by Chris Mower was superb. Voice overs were effective as scene changers, and all pitched at the right level. Cars drawing up, elements of surprise and of course, the amazingly stunning final sequence when the attic members are found out – voices, boots, shouting, banging and locks -was simply horrifying. This paired with wonderful acting from the cast made this a high point in the show…the inevitable ending we were expecting but weren’t quite ready for when it came…there were a lot of people trying to hold back tears and gasps of utter desperation for these people, and a lot of people who snuffled loudly into a tissue, overwhelmed by the awful reality of the situation before them…that actually happened…this play did that brilliantly, reminded us that this actually happened…a wonderful slice of brilliant theatre. You should all be very proud.

Wholly impressed by the whole package as I am I can’t help but point out that straight drama seems to be a departure for the Players worth pursuing again, as, you did it, all of you, and you did it very, very well. Friends of mine went away saying how well you acted, and how moving and utterly spellbinding some of the show was. The telling sign being the absolute silence at the end of the show, followed by thunderous applause. Thanks too to an excellent Front of House team for a wonderful welcome led by Mike Snuggs, and special mention to Neil Goulder for an eye catching poster design and concise and informative programme.

What a wonderfully talented cast and crew. Hats off all round to a respectful and delightfully conscientious production. If you haven’t been, I urge you to go to Amsterdam. Go to the attic. Talk. Sit. And reflect…you told Her story and you told It well. All credit to the director, Ruth Corner and your crew and cast dedication.

“We all live with the objective of being happy;
Our lives are all different, and yet the same…
Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news.
The good news is you don’t know how great you can be!
How much you can love!
What you can accomplish!
And what your potential is!”
Anne Frank