Review by Peter Bleby
“There is an urge and rage in the people to destroy, to kill, to murder, and until all mankind, without exception, undergoes a great change, wars will be raged…” So wrote the perspicacious, articulate and prophetic Anne Frank at the age or 15. It is this kind of understanding of the human – and the inhuman – condition that is enshrined in this remarkable play, written from a remarkable diary of the thoughts and experiences of a remarkable teenager, imprisoned with her parents, her sister and four other often ill-matched and frightened compatriots in the dark days of World War II in occupied Amsterdam. This is a very well-written play, giving the actors such scope to ride the waves of interpersonal relationships in highly charged circumstances: the crests and troughs not only nicely balanced as the narrative progresses, but also demonstrating the intensity of the range of human emotion from courage to despair, and inevitable conflict in a high-pressure and potentially dangerous situation. In this production, Director Geoff Brittain and his team of excellent actors does The Rep a real service, and gives the theatre-goers of Adelaide a true gift. From the outset, the exquisite and complex set by Ole Weibkin implies the tension, chaos and potential conflict that is inescapable when people of different ages, temperaments, and composure are thrust together in severely restricted physical and emotional circumstances for a long time. Not only are the spatial restrictions demonstrated, but even the lack of privacy in other rooms is shown by the semi-transparent and non-existent walls. Throughout this tightly authentic performance, one is transported into the Amsterdam attic and the intensity of these relationships: the calming, levelling generosity of Anne’s father Otto (Tim Williams), the constrained tension of his wife Edith (Nicole Rutty), the insufferable superficiality of Mrs Van Daan (Therese Hornby), the selfish chauvinism of her husband (Tim Taylor), and the self-centered superiority of Mr Dussell (Chris Leech) all convincingly portrayed by this accomplished cast. Woven throughout these interactional ups and downs is the irrepressible positivity of the teenage Anne, along with her own growing, self discovery and questioning, impatience and frustration with the older generation, beautifully portrayed by 15 year old Henny Walters. This is an actor of considerable ability and a maturity beyond her years, beautifully cast and directed. The tension builds, not only between the protagonists, but also with the continuing restrictions, hunger, and impending discovery of this hideaway by the Nazis. Effective lighting (Richard Parkhill), subtle sound (Ray Trowbridge) and authentic costumes (Gilian Cordell) all exhibit Director Geoff Brittain’s attention to detail, as does the use of video covering the scene changes and the continuing business authentically managed by all the actors during scenes in which they are not central. In spite of the horrors of war being inflicted on the fighters in the wider theatres of the trenches, there are terrors inflicted in the smaller theatres of families and individuals struggling to survive the fears and the deprivations war brings to every level. As Anne wrote in her diary, ..”everything will be destroyed and disfigured, after which mankind will have to begin all over again.” That such beginnings are possible is a message of this play, and of this haunting diary, and of a very fine performance, which should not be missed.