Is there no end to this young director Thom Southerlands talent? I have seen many excellent musical shows directed by him and his latest offering of a very different genre shows what a highly gifted young man he is. The Diary of Anne Frank was excellent, a tear jerker with just a clever touch of humour too. Well done the cast, brilliantly acted and well done the Broadway! - Joy Hunt
17 Mar 09
I’m glad I didn’t do research before seeing this play, and that I was only able to browse the excellent exhibit in the foyer after, rather than before the show. It was better this way : to take the play as it came, and try to set aside all foreknowledge ; to find out what happens and let the play do its work.
Only later was I reminded that Anne herself had taken a conscious, typically precocious decision to write for posterity and rework her diary “to Kitty”, a process brutally curtailed by her family’s arrest. But the play (dating from 1955 but subsequently adapted and again reworked for this production) is, rather, a dramatisation of the two-year life in hiding of Anne and her extended family.
Picture the scene : nice, middle-class family : strong but sometimes undemonstrative mother (Celia Williams), a Dad out of Enid Blyton (Anthony Wise) ; teenage sisters, Margot the elder, quiet and studious (Jenny Bede), Anne the younger, exuberant and brattish (Sally Brooks, excellent) ; family friends the Van Pels : boorish Dad (Mark Crook), Mum plumptious and flighty (Sioned Jones), teenage son Peter (Jared Fortune) awkward and introverted ; along for the ride, a bolshie dentist Mr Pfeffer (Gareth Richardson). Put them all in a canal boat or a seaside chalet, and wait for the fireworks? Formula for a sitcom. Except : it’s 1942 in occupied Amsterdam, the family is Jewish, the Nazis are closing in and we’re immured in an attic.
But what engages us and charges the play is that the action is beguilingly domestic. Father’s exposition of the new house rules - total silence throughout the day, no loo-flushing, no looking out etc. - sets a charge to the action that never lets up, but the results can be as funny as they are appalling. With the excellently atmospheric multi-level set and high-calibre effects we are never in doubt about the perils all around. There are, too, frequent reminders of what’s out there from guardian angel Miep (hope personified by Dawn Murphy) and saviour Mr Kugler (Christopher Raikes, emanating burgerlijk soundness – there is an authentically Dutch ring to this piece). But even so all this is contingent to the rising tensions and familial drama as the going gets tougher.
But we do all know that it will end badly, and the poignancy of the surge of hope as the Normandy landings are reported over the radio brings us achingly back to earth. I would have preferred things to stop at the knock on the door, no Nazi thugs. What follows is back out in the public domain of the holocaust. It is enough that we have been drawn in to the tragedy of this family - that, especially, of Otto Frank, the only survivor. From the lips of Anthony Wise, it is his final witness that provides this absorbing piece of theatre with its powerful and poignant conclusion.
- Chris Bearne
Whatsonstage.com - Discount London theatre tickets, theatre news and reviews, Theatre videos, Theatre discussion, National Theatre Listings. Covering London's West End, all of Theatreland and all UK theatre. The best
for London Theatre Ticket Discounts.