The Diary of Anne Frank

June 1, 2017 | By | 1 Reply More

★★★★☆    Necessary

Church Hill Theatre: Wed 31 May – Sat 3 Jun 2017
Review by Hugh Simpson


Combining delicacy, steel and emotional truth, Edinburgh People’s Theatre’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank is both timely and accomplished.

Anne Frank’s diary of the time she, her family and four others spent in hiding in an annexe above her father’s business in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, has made many appearances in different adaptations. Indeed, this version – a revision by Wendy Kesselman of an earlier dramatisation by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett – has already been seen in Edinburgh this year.

Carol Bryce and Kyle Sutherland. Pic: Ian Mcnaught

To tell the truth, however, we need all of the retellings of the story we can get. In a climate of fear that stigmatises anyone perceived to be different, with refugees treated as pariahs – and somehow less than human – by the media in much the same way they were in the 1930s, a reminder of what can result is sadly necessary.

What gives the story a timeless appeal is the way it portrays characters and relationships that are recognisable to anyone. However gifted a writer Anne may have been, she was still an archetypal teenager – by turns optimistic and sullen, resentful of her family yet utterly devoted to them, infuriating and sympathetic.

There is an inescapable feeling at first that Carol Bryce is slightly too old for the role. This lasts all of seconds, as it immediately becomes clear that she can embody all of the contradictions mentioned above and more besides. The use of filmed inserts for some of Anne’s monologues works well on one level, but does have the unfortunate effect of distancing the words from the audience. It has much less impact than Bryce’s multi-faceted onstage persona, boundlessly energetic yet tinged with an inevitable tragedy.

As well as not being as heartfelt as the rest of the production, these inserts present a slight visibility problem for some of the auditorium, with the screen being at the back of the stage. This is the only real problem presented by a complex set, which presents several different acting areas, evoking the claustrophobic and ramshackle air of the annex while still making transitions between scenes smooth, and keeping the discrete areas visible.

doubly atmospheric

The smooth handling of this complicated acting area is just one of the things director Niloo-Far Khan gets spot on. The tone of the piece seems right; the comic moments are given due weight without being laboured, and the pacing of the show is ideal. This has the effect of making it doubly atmospheric – there are moments when you would swear the temperature in the theatre has suddenly dropped a few degrees.

Graham Bell, Alix Spinks, Anne Mackenzie and Kyle Sutherland. Pic: Ian Mcnaught

She also gets some sensitive performances from an accomplished cast. Anne’s sister Margot is an often overlooked character, but Alix Spinks puts in a thoughtful, rounded performance. Kyle Sutherland is wonderfully awkward as the teenage Peter; there are a couple of exchanges between him and Anne that are delightfully excruciating.

A fine balance between comedy and drama is achieved by Anne Mackenzie and Graham Bell as Peter’s parents the van Daans, with one moment that is positively heartbreaking. Iain Menzies gives the dentist Mr Dussel a similar comic dignity.

Victoria Garner and John Somerville give Miep Gies and Mr Kraler, two of those who helped provide for Anne and the others in hiding, a touching credibility.

There is a real ensemble feel to the piece that even a late cast change cannot derail, with assistant director Lynn Cameron playing Anne’s mother on this occasion and acquitting herself very well indeed.

Productions of this play can fall down on the depiction of the horrific events we know must come at the end; the arrival of the Nazi soldiers is slightly awkward as it so often can be. This is entirely redeemed by what comes after. Otto Frank’s epilogue can seem impossible for a mere human to perform; Pat Hymers does it extraordinary justice here, capping an admirable performance.

As always, despite the horrors that unfold, there is still a message of hope. Anne’s belief in the essential goodness of humanity, despite all the evidence to the contrary, is more necessary than ever, and shines through.

Running time 2 hours 15 minutes including one interval
Church Hill Theatre, 33a Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Wednesday 31 May – Saturday 3 June 2017
Wed – Fri evenings 7.30 pm, Matinee Sat at 2.30 pm
Information and tickets: https://www.ept.org.uk/shows/show=201705annefrank.html

There is an accompanying exhibition from the Anne Frank Trust that can be viewed in the 30 minutes before each performance.

ENDS

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  1. Maureen Cochrane says:

    An entirely griping evening. Congratulations to Directors,cast and crews – and good luck for the remaining performances . It was a delight to see so many young and well behaved people in the audience.

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