A review by Pauline Flannery for EXTRA! EXTRA!





The Diary of Anne Frank


Dramatized by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett


Adapted by Wendy Kesselman


Directed by Thom Southerland

Upstairs at the Gatehouse

1 - 24 July 2011


The Diary of Anne Frank is about one thirteen year old girl’s resistance and strength in the face of Nazi brutality in the 1940’s. Liberation came too late for the Frank family, betrayed in August 1944, after hiding in a secret annexe in Amsterdam’s Prinsengracht for two years.

The play charts this time and is as explosive as a ticking bomb, not least because of its tragic end. Through a series of crafted thematic contrasts - wife vs. husband, sister vs. sister, parent vs. children, boy vs. girl, youth vs. age - all life is here. This overwhelming picture of humanity, in its minutiae, its hopes, its dreams, its petty squabbles, its serious rifts, hermetically sealed behind a faux bookcase, makes for compelling theatre, and is a striking testament to endurance and survival.

Anne, (Helen Phillips), flits from precocious child to maturity, from irritation to altruism, from subjective to objective truth. Her range is impressive.  Anne’s foil is the quiet authoritative strength of her father, Otto Frank, convincingly realised by Anthony Wise, and the internal intensity of teenage Peter, in a focused performance by Ross Hatt, as he tries to cut his own way between his peevish, selfish father and his playfully provocative mother.

‘In here’ says Mr Frank to Anne ‘there are ‘no bolts or locks that people can put on your mind!’ It is the creative spur to write a diary, the heart of Anne’s existence before and after the grave. We go along with this, lulled by the playing of Glen Miller’s Moonlight Serenade, dancing, celebrations, cake, adventure, and think ourselves part of this secret world.

News from the outside crashes in, literally, through Miep and Mr Krugler, played by the excellent Katy Baker and Christopher Raikes respectively, the radio, the chimes, the daily diet of beans and rotten potatoes….and then the walls crowd in as news of ‘cleansing’ reaches the annexe. During this time, the simmering internal squabbles, and rise and fall of the action mean that when the cracks appear they are sharp and visceral.

The antagonism between Peter and his father or Anne and her mother is made more so because of the characters’ circumstances and cramped conditions. Through Thom Sutherland’s intelligent direction, wherever the focus, we are always aware of the other characters. In their own worlds, their own space, inhabiting their own thoughts, as each tries to fashion out their own privacies. So that while Anne’s diary and her maturity is central to the structure of the play, it is the characters around her, and their responses, that ultimately shape and develop this production.  

Anne’s sister Margot’s external sobriety is a screen for an almost paralysing fear, as touchingly played by Rachel Lee Kolis. In contrast, the high energy level of Mrs Van Pels, (Jean Perkins), who in her faded glory tries to keep up appearances in her coloured frock and fur coat, is seen as relief to the more stolid Mrs Frank, (Doris Zajer).  The scene, in which she attempts to restore the tattered dignity of her husband, James Bartholomew, after he is caught stealing bread, is heart-felt.

Designer, John Risebero, has done a superb job in realising the attic, as has lighting designer Howard Hudson in creating hot-spots and secret shadows. However, the real stroke of genius is in making us experience the cramped space as the characters do. The design is a series of angles using levels for communal and private space, but with a symmetry that is both practical and theatrical. Bedroom areas are raised but at different angles to each other, so they appear linked yet isolated.

The attic space, which ultimately separates the youthful trio of Anne, Margot and Peter from the adult group seated round the dining table in a wonderful moment of joie de vivre, is positioned centre stage, and juxtaposed with the strike of jack boot and pistol-brandishing, is a moment of pure theatre.   

This production of The Diary of Anne Frank is sharp, striking, meticulously researched and is a collaborative effort not be missed…...All of the people in this drama have now died. The last, Miep Gies, died last year in January 2010. She has a planet named after her, a distinction that Anne would have loved. Ironically, Miep never read the diaries whilst they were in her care, and in another twist of fate, admits that she’d have burnt them if she had, as they named all their helpers and black market suppliers.

The final thoughts belong to Anne: ‘I’m going to be a writer……I want to go on living after my death.’ Neither she nor we know just how prophetic those words were set to become as The Diary of Anne Frank touches new generation after new generation….

Upstairs at the Gatehouse
Highgate Village, London N6 4BD
Box Office 0208340 3488
Book online at http://www.upstairsatthegatehouse.com
Tuesday to Saturdays 7.30pm
Wednesday Matinee 2.30pm
Sunday Matinee 4.00pm

Tickets Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday £12/£10
Friday and Saturday £16/£14; Sunday £14/£10

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