Author: Julie Armstrong (NODA)
How delightful to find myself one evening in a unexpectedly warm church in Huntingdon town square for the latest offering from SaTG in the Parlour. Their third ‘parlour’ production was to be The Diary Of Anne Frank and expectations were running high for this deeply moving and intense story.
The house was full and the setting delightful – the church creating a solemn, yet serene space for the players to perform. A wonderful open stage greeted the audience, and was beautifully dressed with the necessary furnishings and props which remained throughout, representing the tiny attic space that was home to two families for two years. Trying to fit three small rooms, three beds, a table and chairs, a settee and sideboard in such a cramped space only heightened the sense of claustrophobia that the family must have felt and made the audience all too aware of the difficult circumstances endured for their years of confinement. This was successfully achieved using separate levels for each room very effectively. Congratulations must go the stage crew charged with creating such an authentic looking space. Props, by Cherry and Smiley Mildwater added to the 1940’s feel. The actors too, moved around the cramped stage as a choreographed piece, so as to never bump into one another, unless it was staged that way. Excellent costumes from Steph Hamer and her team added to the vintage feel and gave it an authentic look, as did the piano music along with sound effects and great lighting in what was a difficult space to work with. Plaudits to Max Richardson and Ian Favell for their achievements here.
Eight people living in such conditions for that length of time could only lead to conflict, and as the play unfolded, we were shown how tempers frayed and last nerves were well and truly shredded! A cast of ten, directed by Ray Livermore, moved the audience with their retelling of the famous work written by 13 year old Anne. The performances were all the more chilling as we knew that this was a true story. We are firstly introduced to Mr Otto Frank, Anne’s father, played by Simon Maylor who is recounting days gone by in the attic when everyone was together. Simon played the character well, creating a patriarchal figure who clearly adored his daughter Anne – played by newcomer Serenity Twinn in her first outing with SatG.
Serenity did a good job as the 13 year old Anne growing up in such difficult circumstances, discovering her feelings for Peter and her disdain for her mother. The space between one scene and the next was filled with a voiceover of extracts from Anne’s diary, read by Serenity. These created a lovely flow as the stage was dimmed, actors turned their backs and changed their costumes (all very tastefully of course) and the occasional prop was moved. A slower pace would have helped with the recorded dialogue here and would have allowed the audience to keep up with everything that Anne had to tell us, however the overall effect was very good.
Peter van Daan was played by Chris Thompson, who as always, did a great job. Chris is a talented actor and is able to take on the character of any role that he plays. Congratulations on finding the awkwardness of a boy in his late teens, struggling with the reactions of his father and the advances of Anne. An excellent job. Peter’s father, played by Paul Silver, and his mother, Charlotte Maylor both did a good job of making the audience feel uncomfortable as they argued, ‘discussed’, and fought their way through the play. Some lovely characterisation from both actors.
Mrs Frank was portrayed by Caroline Aldridge (in her debut with SatG) who gave us a woman desperately trying to hold it together. Her failing relationship with Anne made it all the more difficult and she found herself leaning on her husband even Margot, her other daughter, more and more throughout the play. Margot was ably played by Stephanie Dickenson who captured her character beautifully and delivered a nice contrast to her sister.
Peter Finnigan gave us Mr Dussel, who had the difficult job of coming late to the attic and trying to fit in with an already established group. Sharing a room with Anne and clashing swords with just about everyone, Peter gave us a frustrated and increasingly alienated Mr Dussel – a job well done. Peter Murphy as Mr Kraler was a stoic character – kindly and understated, Peter played him well.
The feelings behind this play all came to fruition in the final scene, where Mr Frank recounted stories of what had happened to everyone after they had been discovered and removed from the attic. Here, Simon let go and truly allowed the emotion to flow – taking the audience with him right to the end. Well done, this scene was powerful and very moving. Likewise in this final scene, Emma Bone (Miep Gies) gave her all and we saw tears roll down her cheeks as she listened to Mr Frank telling of the atrocities of the last six months. Congratulations to Emma and also to Peter as Mr Kraler, who were both able to bring those feelings to the fore and make the audience truly feel their pain, before exiting the attic for the final time and leaving the stage empty. An excellent closing scene to this piece, leaving the audience deeply moved.
As the characters all returned, in silence, we see the shocking reality of this dramatic play – the people who are no more, put to death in concentration camps. The actors left the stage, no bows, and the audience was left in stunned silence. A superb ending to a moving piece.