For the last three generations or so children have been reading The Diary of a Young Girl as a firsthand account of life in Europe under Hitler’s rule for a young Jewish girl. In the stage adaptation by Francis Goodrich and Albert Hackett, the audience is brought directly into the Frank’s annex for the two years that they were in hiding to see the long hours of boredom, brief respite in holiday celebration, and a brooding fear of discovery underpinning it all.
For the purposes of the adaptation, names and details of dates have been altered, but The Diary of Anne Frank chronicles young Anne’s (Genevieve Papadopoulos) experiences living in confinement with her family and their guests, the van Daan’s and Mr Dussel (David Hill). The adaptation accurately captures the atmosphere of Anne’s printed diary in the fairly mundane everyday occurrences interspersed with philosophical musings of a young thinker, while also balancing the dreaded uncertainty that permeated the annex between 1942 and 1944, when their hiding place was eventually found out.
Set design from Steve Wimmer recreates the cramped conditions of the three-storey annex with platforms and a centralised kitchen and dining room that also operated as the children’s schoolroom and the Frank’s bedroom. Director Faith Jessel focused on the realism of the story and emphasised the steady monotony of the characters’ experience against the absurdity and unbelievability of the international circumstances that had placed them in this position. At times, the scenes are framed by Anne’s narration, projected on the back wall, where she reveals layers of her internal thoughts and attempts to make sense of her confinement. These moments are perhaps the most devastating as a young girl speaks of her hopes and dreams directly to an audience that knows of her fate.
Papadopoulos plays the rambunctious and head-strong Anne with a mix of carefree spiritedness and petulance characteristic of the early teens. Her performance is balanced out by level-headed Margot (Brittany Macchetta) and her even and considerate father Otto (Dave Kirkham). Other characters seem to only spark arguments like Anne’s strung-out mother Edith (Judy Jankovics) or the domineering Mr van Daan (David Schad) who prickles at Anne’s outspoken nature. Her truest rival and eventual collaborator is Peter van Daan, played by Yarno Rohling, who provides an equally strong-willed sounding board for Anne’s many views. Papadopoulos and Rohling gently portray the evolution from sparring partners to timid and giggling lovers with a sweet earnestness that offsets the growing tensions between other characters.
Anne Frank’s story, in her own words, has persisted for its ability to cut through history and speak to the childish innocence and understanding we all share. It is this clarity that does away with resentment, political partisanship, and selfish denial and gets to the heart of the human consequences of prejudice and dangerous inactive neutrality.
Nazis have reappeared in international news over the last five years with the rise of fascist ideology in major political parties and powerful world leaders. In the United States, the government is taking steps towards similar policies to Nazi Germany by separating immigrant families, targeting and imprisoning minorities, and failing to investigate instances of death within government institutions. In Australia, people have been kept imprisoned for nearly ten years in cruel and inhumane conditions.
At times like this, Anne’s story is a reminder of the evil things people are capable of inflicting on each other and the immense cost of maintaining hope in the face of hatred.
The Diary of Anne Frank is running at the Pavilion Theatre from September 20th – October 12th