The Diary of Anne Frank

Wed 7th – Sun 25th August 2013

reviews

Patty McCabe

at 08:46 on 12th Aug 2013

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As a historian, this play is difficult to asses. The line between history and memory is so thin, and nowhere have they become more blurred than in the story of Anne Frank. Set in the beautiful Duddingston Kirk gardens, Theatre Alba’s production of Wendy Kesselman’s adaptation of ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ was an accomplished piece of theatre, even if the script itself failed to face the challenges embedded in both the context and the story of Anne Frank herself.

The stage was surrounded by barbed wire and the gates of Auschwitz with the infamous metalwork reading “Abreit Macht Frei”: a powerful reminder of Anne’s fate. The claustrophobic setting of the annex, potentially very difficult to recreate outdoors, was suggested by the fact that, even at the most private moments, all the characters were on stage. The encroaching darkness added to this sense of claustrophobia by drawing the characters closer together. It was a testament to the artistic vision of Charles Nowosielski that he embraced the outdoor elements rather than trying to fight them.

This production would never have been an easy job: depicting real people and an incredibly sensitive issue. Nowosielski – of Catholic-Polish origin – did not hesitate to comment on the reprimands he had received from his own community about his choice of show. Anne (Andrea Mackenzie) was by far the hardest role. Mackenzie’s performance was convincing, although a little irritating. There remained little development in her character and some parts of her monologues were far too melodramatic. The best performances, surprisingly, came from Mr and Mrs van Dann (Marcus Macleod and Kirsten Maguire), including an incredibly touching moment when Mrs van Dann forgives her husband from stealing the bread.

In terms of the script, the historian in me cannot help thinking that it was all too black and white: the Nazi officers spoke in Dutch, a very clear illustration that they were the ‘bad guys’, and there were constant references to the lack of intervention by the Allied Forces. The story of Anne is not a morality tale, yet Kesselman’s adaptation treats it like one.

It was the overall experience that made this production enjoyable. Theatre Alba have clearly built up a following among their local community. I had a chance to speak with a regular who attends all their shows and it was fantastic to be able to chat with the head of the theatre company, as well as the ushers who were always on hand with tea and biscuits. If you are looking for cutting-edge drama, perhaps stick to the city centre, but if you are looking for enjoyable evening with beautiful scenery and friendly faces then take a trip to Duddinston Kirk gardens.

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Theodora Hawlin

at 12:14 on 12th Aug 2013

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The story of Anne Frank was never going to be an easy tale to tell, yet Theatre Alba manages to breathe new life into this iconic story.

It’s striking how, inadvertently, regional accents of the cast members dramatically relocate the war time to present day Scotland. For Alba, the venue of Duddingston was a natural choice, a culmination of a fifteen year strong relationship with the village. The company are deeply rooted in the pleasures of the great outdoors. It’s an invigorating novelty to escape the hoards of the inner city and enjoy the sun in the luscious green that sits just beyond Arthur’s Seat.

It’s thanks to shows like this that Frank’s wish to ‘go on living after my death’ remains a reality today. Director Charles Nowosielski describing a sense of duty: ‘it’s a story that needs to be performed’. Kesselman’s adaptation extends past Frank’s death with interwoven survivor accounts and incorporated new writings, but I’m surprised how swiftly events of the play unfold, coursing through what essentially becomes a domestic drama as two families collide and are eventually torn apart. The compression of eight lives into the confinement of a single annex captures the claustrophobic realities of day to day life, yet the unique external setting allows the audience welcome breathing space, preventing the drama from becoming overbearing.

The scene is set superbly, with a circular stage sinisterly ringed by barbed wire, a reminder of the fate that awaits her through the juxtaposition with normal household furniture - the gates of Auschwitz looming at the back of the stage. Throughout the play actors are cleverly observed from beyond the ‘hell’ that they are caught within. Nazi soldiers patrol in full uniform, evoking real unease, along with a devastated Miep (Amy Conway) looking on with despairing retrospective eyes, clutching the diary as ‘all that remains’. Similarly Nick Cheales as Otto Frank gives a resounding and emotive performance as the bereaved father.

The sensitivity of relationships are continually explored and artfully performed, but at times I find Anne annoyingly energetic. Then suddenly I’m reminded of her age, that she begins the play at just thirteen and suddenly ecstatic excitement seems appropriately and recognisably placed. Her desire ‘to be useful and bring enjoyment to all people, even those I have never met’, becomes a mantra for Alaba Theatre, with an impressive portfolio of productions and a clearly dedicated local following, this group is certainly one to watch.

However, Nowosielski jokes about the interval being a period in which we can ‘thaw out’ and sure enough a word of warning is required for those brave enough to venture out: be sure to wrap up warm!

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