The Diary of Anne Frank…a theatre review by Deb Meyer

June 30, 2015 by Deb Meyer
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“Why is The Diary of Anne Frank one of the most well-known books of all time?” asks my 14-year-old daughter, after we saw the play adaptation at Sydney’s New Theatre.

I discuss with her the three P’s that come to mind (not the usual 3 P’s occupying the thoughts of a theatre reviewer – the Play, Production and Performances), but rather, Anne’s Perspective as a young person during the Holocaust, her Positivity and her Plight, which is all too well-known. That this production prompts conversation about the Shoah between parents and children is but one great reason to see the play.

The cast of The Diary of Anne Frank. Photo © Matthias Engesser

The cast of The Diary of Anne Frank. Photo © Matthias Engesser

Divided into two Acts, this Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning play, written in 1955 by Frances Goodrich & Albert Hackett, opens with Otto Frank returning, after the war, to his family’s place of hiding in Amsterdam. His reflections on their time in hiding ensue, beginning in 1942 when Anne (aged 13) receives her diary.

Anne’s voiced diary entries and voice overs during scene changes, cleverly punctuate the production and prompt Anne and the characters with whom she is forced to share a small attic, to lift off the page. Alongside the ‘’wild’’ and ‘’self-willed’’ Anne (Justina Ward), there’s her quiet, older sister Margot (Jessie Miles) and loving, resourceful parents Edith (Jodine Muir) and Otto (James Bean).

We also meet Miep Gies (Rowena McNicol) and Mr Kraler (Martin Searles) – two gentiles who sacrifice their lives to help the Frank family, along with Mr and Mrs Van Daan (Geoff Sirmai and Caroline Levien) and their 16 year old son Peter (David Wiernik), and later Mr Dussel (Martin Portus), who all come to hide in the tiny attic.

Geoff Sirmai, David Wiernik and Caroline Levien. Photo © Matthias Engesser

Geoff Sirmai, David Wiernik and Caroline Levien. Photo © Matthias Engesser

Tension escalates as food and space become increasingly scarce.

Despite Anne’s night terrors, her belief in the inherently positive nature of people and her sense of optimism shines brightly. Anne’s positivity and playfulness, especially in her adolescent attempts to engage the quiet Peter, provide a joyousness and welcome counterbalance to the pathos of their predicament. The scenes between the two teenagers are highlights of the play.

Justina Ward does a superb job as the spirited Anne, embodying her imaginative and playful spirit as well as her ‘’inner growth’’ and sense of deep frustration. James Bean plays a very endearing and commanding Otto Frank, highlighting his close relationship with Anne as well as his role in taming tempers in the attic. Experienced Jewish actor Geoff Sirmai, who brings his own family history into the role, and Caroline Levien, bring complexity to their married characters, brimming with fear

David Wiernik and Justina Ward. Photo © Matthias Engesser

David Wiernik and Justina Ward. Photo © Matthias Engesser

and despair. David Wiernik too is wonderfully cast in the role of Peter, with an engaging intensity and awkwardness. Rowena McNicol and Martin Searles bring great empathy to their roles as the ‘helpers’ and Jodine Muir, in the role of Anne’s mother, demonstrates versatility in balancing her character’s composure with a deep vulnerability. Martin Portus as the hardened dentist and Jessie Miles as the assured yet reserved Margot, round off a very talented ensemble.

Director Sam Thomas has put together a praise-worthy team in this heartfelt and sensitive production. Set Designer Allan Walpole’s realistic stage set is complete with large timber beams and squeaking floorboards, with great attention to detail. A note-worthy mention goes to Leonie Cohen for her haunting, original music composition.

Anne Frank famously wrote in her diary, ‘’I want to go on living, even after my death’’ and this production certainly helps preserve her memory, along with 11 other million people who were murdered in the Holocaust, to whom this production is dedicated. May the poignancy and power of The Diary of Anne Frank, and the messages it contains, be known by future generations for many years to come.

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The Diary of Anne Frank

By Frances Goodrich & Albert Hackett

Director Sam Thomas

New Theatre, Newtown

Until July 11, 2015

Performances: Thu – Sat 7:30pm, Sun 5pm, Final performance, Sat 11 Jul 5pm
Running Time: 2hrs 35mins with 20 minute interval

Tickets: Full $32 | Concession $27 | Students $17 | Suitable for school children of all ages

To book tickets contact www.newtheatre.org.au

David Wiernik and Justina Ward. Photo © Matthias Engesser

Geoff Sirmai, David Wiernik and Caroline Levien. Photo © Matthias Engesser

 

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