“Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.” This statement—the final words spoken by Anne Frank in this play—have particular resonance. The young girl appears on-stage after her father (warmly played by James Bean) discloses that she has died in a concentration camp—that is, after she has experienced the worst of human nature.
In this production, Justina Ward convincingly portrays the central character, all long limbs and hormone-fuelled outbursts.
The beguiling representation of Anne Frank catalyses the rest of the cast into a wonderful ensemble of characters. She fights with her exasperated mother (Jodine Muir) and competes with her sister Margot (Jessie Miles, in a role that offers little opportunity). She is especially curt to flirtatious and silly Mrs Van Daan (Caroline Levien) and elderly dentist Mr Dussel (Martin Portus), with whom she is forced to share her sleeping space. And she sets all the adults on edge as she forms a first tentative romantic relationship with shy young Peter (David Wiernik).
Allan Walpole’s set features substantial roof beams overhead, practical woollen blankets and hessian-covered cushions. There is also an historical reference: wooden crates used as makeshift furniture bear the label “Opecta”, a jam-setting product sold by the real Mr Frank’s business.
Transitions between scenes are beautifully handled. With a judicious use of original music (Leonie Cohen), the cast bustle around, moving furniture and changing clothes. The transitions thus contribute to our understanding of the characters’ lack of privacy and oppressively restricted space.
External events confront the hidden group with moral dilemmas. Should they allow another threatened person to share their already scarce resources? (Sunny-natured Mr Frank decides they should.)
Other adults don’t meet Mr Frank’s high standards of behaviour. Mr Van Daan—a repellent character played by Geoff Sirmai—steals from their shrinking supply of food in the play’s more sombre second half. His collapse into sobs completes a process of emotional disintegration that reflects the impact of prolonged hiding—and fear and uncertainty—on everyone. Anne’s sister Margot even longs for some kind of resolution, no matter what it might be.
The really dramatic events, such as their discovery and their forced departure, happen in this portion of the play. These are depicted skillfully, but strangely felt a little flat—perhaps reflecting the exhaustion of the characters and their growing fatalism.
Director Sam Thomas points out in the programme notes that “the play’s underlying themes of discrimination, intolerance and the scapegoating of minorities are as relevant today as they were 70 years ago.”
This is absolutely true, and the play reminds us that it’s often the glimpses of what we share with other humans that give stories real emotional resonance—the everyday joys and pain, the dreams about the future. This production presents those glimpses with sensitivity and compassion: when Anne rolls her eyes and stomps around, when she regrets her outbursts, when she defines her goals and ambitions.
The New Theatre is also presenting three special events that will involve high profile guest speakers and panellists from the Jewish, LGBTQI, Muslim and refugee communities:
Intolerance Forum Sunday 21 June 2pm
Holocaust Survivor Talk Sunday 28 June 3pm
Post-show Q&A with cast and director Sunday 5 July.