The Diary of Anne Frank, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

22 Jul

The play The Diary of Anne Frank follows the lives of eight people in Amsterdam, who have to hide during World War II to escape deportation and is based on Anne Frank’s real diary.

The story of Anne Frank and her family has moved thousands of people since her diary was first published in 1947. I am one of them. I can’t even remember how often I have read it, as well as any other book about her that I could find. But I’ve never seen the play, though it turned out to be mostly the same as the 1959 movie version.

This production of The Diary of Anne Frank was originally produced by The Broadway Studio in Catford before it transferred to the Upstairs at the Gatehouse Theatre and gave me a chance to finally see it.

It’s a lovely venue and the scenery was very clever, giving the audience a feel for the cramped confinement the family and their friends had to live in, while at the same time maintaining a clear division between the different rooms.

Anne Frank was played by Helen Philips. She gave a very moving performance all in all and there were moments when I thought she was great, but there were many occasions when she tried too hard to come across as a 13/14/15 year old girl and I didn’t find her believable at all, especially in the quieter scenes.

Anthony Wise was great as Otto Frank. His Otto Frank was always optimistic, generous and diplomatic, while at the same time secretly terrified of what the future might hold for them. I don’t think anyone will ever beat Ben Kingsley’s portrayal for me, but he is very close.

I really liked Rachel Lee Kolis, who played Margot Frank, even though she didn’t have that much to do, but I felt her portrayal was very sincere.

Doris Zajer as Edith Frank was good, but I don’t think her character is very interesting (just in the play, not in general obviously).

I liked Jean Perkins and James Bartholomew as Herman and Petronella van Pels. It usually annoys me when they are simply portrayed as selfish and disagreeable (as they so often are), but they both managed to move me and make me feel for their characters, despite a script which, once again, tries to show them in a less favourable light. But I guess this way it is more dramatic.

Ross Hatt played their son Peter. I really liked his characterisation, in the beginning just awkward and self-conscious until he later started to grow more confident and sure of himself.

Stephen McGlynn as Fritz Pfeffer was very good, too. His portrayal clearly showed his uneasiness of being the only stranger among them, with no family support, but, again, I found that his character is far too one-dimensional and negative. I did enjoy his performance though, it’s the script I have a problem with.

Katy Baker and Christopher Raikes as Miep Gies and Victor Kugler were good. They provided the necessary hope for most of the play, so that it is not completely sad and depressing. I did wonder however, why the writers chose those two and decided to leave the other two helpers, Johannes Kleiman and Bep Voskuijl, out.

Jon-Paul Rowden and Olivia O’Shea played the Nazi Officers who arrested them.

My only real criticism of this production is the way the arrest is handled and it’s not just because I know that it wasn’t like that at all. I simply found all that shouting and display of violence completely unnecessary and it didn’t leave any room for feeling anything for me. A quieter scene would have had more impact on me I think and would have actually moved me. I found it quite hard to get back into the atmosphere of the play for the very last scene afterwards, but Anthony Wise’s short recount of what had happened to them after the arrest was heart-breaking.

I’m glad I finally managed to see the play and I thoroughly enjoyed it all in all. It will close on Saturday, but I urge anyone who can get there before that to go and see it! It’s one of those evenings that stay with you for a long time!

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