As The Diary of Anne Frank begins, each of the actors takes a moment to introduce themselves and their character, and make a connection between their own lives and the life of Anne Frank. Some tell stories from when they were 13 -- the same age Anne was when she began her life in hiding in Amsterdam. Other actors bring up different aspects of her diary, such as love, family and friendship. After this humanizing precursor to the play itself, the ensemble introduces a cleverly designed set that is at times eerily claustrophobic, but still manages to seem like home for the characters hiding away.
The play is set during 1942, the year Anne and her family go into hiding, and during 1944, the year they are discovered near the end of the war. Various cast members, while setting up or concluding certain scenes, read snippets of Anne Frank’s actual diary. The play itself, however, rises above the confines of the diary and touches on the stories of all the characters hiding away with Anne.
In the titular role of Anne Frank, Sara Farb introduces her character with wonderful, childlike exuberance. She dances around the stage, lost in her imagination, as her parents and other adult characters fret over the safety and dangers of their hiding spot. Over time, however, Farb’s Anne Frank grows, and grows quickly. Along with her sister, Margot (Shannon Taylor) and friend Peter van Daan (André Morin), Anne matures rapidly over the nearly two years she spends hiding, as she comes to understand just how much of her youth will be gone forever.
Despite the topic, the play keeps the tone somewhat light. The atrocities of the Nazis during World War II are briefly touched upon during the course of the play and the more delicate and explicit portions of Anne’s diary are glossed over. The tension between the characters is palpable and the unique set (from designer Bretta Gerecke) feels like a character all its own. Wooden slats span the length of three walls (two on the sides and one at the back) and everything from doors, to stairs, to a second floor are cleverly camouflaged within them. Light is shone through the set at various points in the play, sometimes to illuminate a scene that takes place in the background, behind the slatted walls, and at other times to focus in on certain sections, making it seem like there are several rooms, rather than just the one that truly appears on stage.
The Diary of Anne Frank is a familiar story for most. The play does not seek to simply retell or reimagine what Anne wrote in that diary, but to bring to life the moments that impacted what she wrote, and perhaps most importantly, why she wrote.
Written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett and directed by Jillian Keiley, The Diary of Anne Frank runs at the Avon Theatre at the Stratford Festival until October 10th. Tickets range from $25 - $121.25 for adults and $25 - $38 for kids under 18. Visit www.stratfordfestival.ca for details.