Today I think I made a bunch of actors really proud of themselves. Because I was sitting in the very first row and a tearstreaked wreck when they came out for their bows. The play was fantastic, the actors amazing and the stage design of gut wrenching minimalism. Add to that the brilliant idea to start the play with very personal stories of the actors, telling of how life was when they were Anne’s age, the experience was everything a theatre goer can ever hope for.
I assume the plot of the play is known. The Franks, Anne, her sister Margot and the parents go into hiding when Amsterdam is swarmed by the Nazis. They are later joined by Mr and Mrs van Daan and their son Peter and finally by Mr Dussel. Their suffering starts in 1942 and ends after two years, only days after the battle of Normandy. Then they are begrayed, their hidden Secret Annex discovered by storm troops. Like cattle they are loaded into trains and brought to Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen. Weeks later the camps are freed as well, but the only one who made it out of this hell is Mr Frank who proceeds to publish the diary his daughter had to leave in the Annex.
Sara Farb as Anne is riveting, and she is joined by Stratford’s greatest: Lucy Peacock, Yanna McIntosh, as well as Joseph Ziegler as Mr Frank. They all manage to convey the suffocating tightness of the Annex, the claustrophobic numbness that comes when too many people are living in too small a place and the inevitableness of bickering and quarreling that come with it. That fate then is cruel enough to have them perish when freedom is almost within their grasp is a last and fatal blow in the face of hope.
When the play ended – and I was sitting there alternately applauding and brushing away tears – and the lights came on, nobody stood to leave the theatre. For almost a minute there was this hushed silence where everyone was trying to come back to the here and now, to shake off the lingering shock of the play’s impact.