The Diary of Anne Frank, by Frances Goodrich & Albert Hackett | Directed by Sam Thomas

New Theatre | New Theatre, Newtown, Sydney | Until 11 July

The story of Anne Frank is probably familiar to most Baby Boomers but maybe not so much to Generations Y and Z, so FYI — Anne Frank was born in Germany in 1929 and when Adolf Hitler came to power, her family, being Jewish and fearing persecution, evacuated to Holland. Then feeling fearful once again, they went into hiding, taking refuge above Otto Frank’s store.

It is here that the entire play takes place. Otto Frank (James Bean) and his wife (Jodine Muir) and their two daughters Anne (Justina Ward) and Margot (Jessie Miles) as well as Mr and Mrs Van Daan (Geoff Sirmai and Caroline Levien) and their son Peter (David Wiernik) and a dentist, Mr Dussel (Martin Searles), all live here for two years.

They are never able to go outside and have to be totally silent during the day for fear of being discovered by the people running the store below.  In the evening, however, the group are free to move about and live a semblance of normal life. The refugees also receive supplies, and after-hours visits, from Mr Kraler (Martin Searles) and Miep Gies (Rowena McNicol), two trusted friends and employees.

To boost her spirits, Anne is given a diary by her father and in this she records the everyday events of daily life, as well as her hopes and fears. Disappointingly, the diary itself plays a minor role in the play and there is little focus on the emancipating powers of writing. Instead extracts from the diary are used in voice-over form as the scene changes.

Justina Ward portrays Anne as strong, dynamic, opinionated and flirtatious and imbues her with radiant innocence and impetuousness. It is a remarkable performance, well crafted and very charismatic.

Famke Visser’s simple costume design effectively evokes the period and the cramped and overcrowded loft is convincingly rendered by Allan Walpole’s suggestive set design. However the claustrophobia the set suggests results in a squeeze on stage and limits movement, which at times negatively impacts on the pace of the drama.

Sam Thomas’s direction does elicit solid performances from all cast members and she successfully manages to conjure the sense of danger that is ever-present outside the space. Tragically, towards the end of the war the Gestapo come knocking at the door and only Otto Frank survives the concentration camps.

Whatever the show’s strengths and weaknesses, it is an important story to tell and New Theatre tell it well. Worth a look.