Diary of Anne Frank opens a window to history

| 05/09/2018
Anne Frank, CNS Local Life

A scene from The Diary of Anne Frank

(CNS Local Life): Upon entering the theatre at the Prospect Playhouse it is immediately clear that Cayman Drama Society’s (CDS) performance of The Diary of Anne Frank, which opens 6 September, is going to be unique. The theatre has been transformed, with the seating area becoming part of the stage and the infamous annex in which the Frank and Van Daan families lived for 761 days, joined by Mr Dussel during that time.

The audience is instantly transported to that warehouse in Amsterdam in World War II and even must walk through the bookcase that hides the secret door to the upstairs annex. The effect is powerful as the line between audience and actors is blurred and everyone in the theatre is treated to, as director Kirsty Halliday, says, “a fly-on-the-wall” glimpse into what it was like to be confined to those quarters, living in constant fear of being discovered by the Nazis.

Anne Frank, CNS Local Life

Anne and her father, Otto, played by Jasmine Line and Adam Roberts

The well-known story of young Anne Frank keeping a diary about being in hiding with her family and others is a harrowing one, but for those not familiar with it, they will learn all the important bits during the play. The cast, over the course of the rehearsals which started in June, had to immerse themselves in the difficult subject matter of the Holocaust and death camps. They shared stories, watched documentaries and tried to learn as much as they could about that dark chapter of history.

Halliday acknowledged that the rehearsals themselves were difficult and painful, taking their toll on cast members, with the actors at times reduced to tears due to the emotionally draining story they were telling. In fact, she recounted how she counselled everyone to “take a break” after rehearsals and lose themselves in lighthearted entertainment. She pointed to the story of director Steven Spielberg who, during filming of Schindler’s List. would watch Seinfeld episodes after a day of work to decompress.

Anne Frank, CNS Local Life

Stephen Wise as Mr Dussel

The effort by director and cast paid off brilliantly, with each actor conveying the heart-wrenching fear of their situation with an emotional depth that carried through to the small audience watching the final dress rehearsal.

While all the actors proved their dramatic capabilities, and each is deserving of praise, of particular note is Jasmine Line, who played Anne. The 15-year-old has been studying acting with Halliday, who runs classes for both teens and adults, but has previously only had small parts in school plays. She studied World War II in school and was familiar with the diary as well as other Holocaust-era books so understood the historical context. But, not surprisingly, though she said she was excited to take on the role, it took her out of her comfort zone.

“The hardest thing to understand was that Anne was a real girl and that real people lived through this,” she said, poignantly noting, “At my age, I’ve already outlived Anne.” While glad she took on the part, Line also spoke of the difficult process. “There were some tough times during rehearsals, to see what Anne went through, it was really horrific.”

Anne Frank, CNS Local Life

Laura McCauley and Neil Hamaty as the Van Daans

Adam Roberts, perhaps best known for his comedic roles in various CDS musicals, plays Anne’s father, Otto, displaying serious acting chops. He said that one thing Halliday stressed was that “we were telling the story of real people and it was important to keep their story alive – a story of hatred and hope. We owe it to the real people to do it justice and treat the story with respect.”

The remaining major cast members are: Zoe Wall as Anne’s sister, Margot; Agata Kalicki (mother Edith); Sandra Robinson (Miep Gies); Mike Bishop (Mr Kraler); Liam Oko (Peter Van Daan); Laura McCauley (Mrs Van Daan); Neil Hamaty (Mr Van Daan); and Stephen Wise (Mr Dussel).

Anne Frank, CNS Local Life

The annex residents light the menorah for Chanukah

Composers Barrie and Chuck Quappe, along with Nayil Arana, provide the haunting musical backdrop to the drama.

While the play does have a few lighter – and much appreciated – moments, the overriding heartache and dread is never far away, as it should be.

Halliday said she loves emotional pieces and true stories that are politically charged, calling the theatre an “educational tool as well as entertainment”. For this particular story, she noted, “It’s easy to look at history and say, ‘Thank God, we’re so far away from that’”, but added that was “not really true if you look at the world today. If we stop talking about it, there is a chance of it repeating.”

She added the power of The Diary of Anne Frank is that the story puts faces on real people so the audience can start to understand what they went through. Halliday said she hopes those who see the play will be inspired to learn some history so they can “look at the mistakes of the past and be part of the change for a better future”.

Performance dates for The Diary of Anne Frank are 6-9, 13-16 September. Tickets are available through the CDS website or by calling 939-1998

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Category: Arts, Performing Arts

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