This year’s Schulich Children’s Play at Stratford Festival is The Diary of Anne Frank. Seems a strange choice? It’s not in the same class as previous productions for children, such as Alice through the Looking Glass, or You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Yet, having seen The Diary of Anne Frank, I now believe it is the perfect choice for a children’s play. Any child of about age 10 or older should see this show. Some may be very upset by the sad ending: It is a difficult history lesson and also a study in family relationships. But the heart-felt lesson learned will never be forgotten.
The play, The Diary of Anne Frank, is based on the real Anne Frank’s actual diaries. Anne, of course, was a young Jewish girl who went into hiding with her father, mother, and sister Margot after the Nazis occupied The Netherlands in World War II. In the same hidden annex were another couple, the van Daans, their son, Peter, and Mr. Dussel, a dentist. When they hear on the radio that the Dutch Minister of Education is calling on people to record their stories, Anne decides to keep a diary. She writes down her thoughts and feelings from the time they went into hiding in 1942, until they were betrayed and sent to concentration camps by the Nazis in 1945, just before the end of the war.
The show opens with each actor lining up across the stage. Whether a key character or member of ensemble, each in turn took the spotlight to talk about their connection with this play. Some told of who they were at age 13 (Anne’s age when she went into hiding), while others talked about childhood crushes. Especially poignant were personal connections to the holocaust. Some stories were funny, some were sad, some very moving.
Sarah Farb is perfect as Anne. She is a precocious chatterbox, portraying all the child-like twitchiness, mood swings and burgeoning sexuality of a 13 year old. In contrast, Shannon Taylor is also flawless as Anne’s older and much more reserved sister, Margot. André Morin gives us an endearing Peter, annoyed at first by Anne’s aggressiveness, later growing to enjoy her company and then showing his tenderness for her. Other standouts are Lucy Peacock as the angry and torn Mrs. Frank, and Joseph Ziegler as the calm and understanding Mr. Frank. Maev Beaty as Miep, brings sunshine, along with potatoes and other necessities, into their otherwise dark attic. The ensemble provides a cappella background music, kept in key by the use of a tuning fork.
The set is effective, with its strips of wood. It is the lathwork of an attic, which becomes the bars of their self-imposed and very necessary jail. Eventually it is the walls of a boxcar herding them like cattle to concentration camps and their deaths.
The story is spellbinding and despite the extreme circumstances, very familiar. They try to live like a family, sharing space and meals. And like any family there is bickering and secrecy. Director Jillian Keiley deserves credit for making the audience feel like a part of this unusual and endearing family.
Only Mr. Frank survives the concentration camp. In a very poignant moment he returns to their hiding place. The tension in the theatre is palpable. He decides to let the diaries be published. Anne gets her wish for fame as an author.
In the beginning of the show, actor Sarah Farb spoke last. She told that her grandmother was a holocaust survivor. Her connection to her role was evident throughout.
This is a moving production. After the final scene, there is a long, pregnant pause, before a single clap is heard followed by others. Everyone is wiping tears, and doesn’t feel the urge to applaud. Clapping seems inappropriate. But then, when the actors come out for the final bows, the applause is thunderous.
The Diary of Anne Frank continues in repertoire until October 10 at the Avon Theatre, Stratford. Tickets are available at the Stratford Festival at 1-800-567-1600, or check www.stratfordfestival.ca
Photo: Sara Farb as Anne Frank in The Diary of Anne Frank. Photo by David Hou.
The Diary of Anne Frank – Stratford 2015
By Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, Adapted by Wendy Kesselman
Directed by Jillian Keiley
Performed by Sara Farb et al.
Produced by Stratford Festival
Avon Theatre, Stratford
April 22 to October 10, 2015
Reviewed by Mary Alderson