Review: The Diary of Anne Frank ****

Amy Dawson as Anne and Victoria Ross as Margot in The Diary of Anne Frank
Amy Dawson as Anne and Victoria Ross as Margot in The Diary of Anne Frank
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York Theatre Royal

Here’s irony – a production of The Diary of Anne Frank in which the least enjoyable parts are those featuring the title character.

Amy Dawson, impressive in Sheffield’s production of That Face, is beyond annoying as an irritating, gurning, dancing, Anne. As the central character through whose eyes we see the action, this could be a major problem.

Fortunately, she is the only off note in a production in which everything else is solid, nuanced and effective. Director Nikolai Foster is developing an impressive bag of tricks and the man behind the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s hit Christmas show Annie shows a real sense of growing maturity here.

This production, which starts out in York, tours the country and it is clearly made to appeal to the teenagers who study the book as a set text. The story of the Frank family, forced to live in hiding in an attic away from the invading Nazis, The Diary of Anne Frank is a way in to the story of human history’s most horrific moment.

A set design that seems to hold a weighty significance, the playing area held above the actual stage on rows of books, this production avoids being a history lesson by virtue of the human drama that emerges from the script.

Written by Wendy Kesselman in 1997, the writer has a grasp of the adult world and the overwhelming claustrophobia the parents of the Frank family must have felt, but it feels like she has written a cliché of a teenager in Anne and it is with her that the ultimate blame must lay in creating a character you don’t want to spend time with.

The adults are all played with subtlety, the dignity of Otto Frank, Anne’s father, brought to life with a quiet sense of authority by Christopher Timothy. As the elder statesman in the cast, he brings a real sense of calm and it is when he is on stage that we really understand the quiet desperation of the family.

Those around him are equal to their tasks, although Dominic Gately as a Jewish dentist who finds refuge with the family, arriving after the family has settled and accepted that the attic space is simply where they must live, brings a desperation to the role that reminds us of the true awfulness of the situation.

To March 3, then on tour.