Tuesday, June 25

Dreams of Anne Frank – The Space @ Surgeon’s Hall

This is a gripping production about the experiences of Amsterdam teenager, Anne Frank, who was forced into hiding from the Nazis in 1942.

The young actors from Zenith Youth Theatre in Bath are to be congratulated on an assured production. 

It’s a tragic tale but Bernard Kops’s play, loosely based on Anne Frank’s famous diary, provides plenty of amusing moments.

Anne, along with her parents and older sister, Margot, hide in a ‘secret annexe’ of a warehouse because, as a Jewish family, they fear for their lives when the German army enters Amsterdam.

They have to share the cramped living accommodation with another Jewish family, Mr and Mrs Van Daan and their son, Peter. And also, with Mr Dussel, a dentist.

They live in the annexe for more than two years and unsurprisingly there are tensions living in such a confined space.

The eight strong cast works well together to bring out the humour of the script as well as the horror of the situation in which they find themselves, always facing the danger of discovery by the Nazis. 

Nancy Emerson gives a spirited portrayal of Anne. She captures the intelligence, sense of fun and cheekiness of Anne. But Anne’s bravado hides her fear, which is evident when her dreams turn into nightmares.

There are some delightful confrontations with the bossy Mrs Van Daan, convincingly played by Beth Sykes. When she catches Anne mimicking her, she calls her “a spoilt brat, a monster”. Perhaps not surprisingly Mrs Van Daan appears in Anne’s dreams as the Wicked Witch.  The hapless Mr Van Daan is well portrayed by Zeb Hickson.

Joshua Frere plays Peter Van Daan. The developing relationship between Peter and Anne is sensitively conveyed by both actors. At first Peter thinks Anne dislikes him but she admits she likes his smile and his eyes. In Anne’s dream Peter says, “Shall we canoodle?” Before long they declare their love for each other and get married. They plan to have five children.

But when Anne dreams that Hitler is dead, she tells everyone, and they celebrate – only to find out later that he’s still alive. Then they tell Anne to stop dreaming.

Anne uses her diary and her dreams as a means of escape. She is in captivity in an annexe and can’t go outside.  But even in captivity, “you can be free inside your head.” She lets her imagination roam freely. But sometimes the dreams get too frightening and turn into nightmares.

Anne calls on the people of the world to save them. She tells us that one day peace will come. It is a moving speech but made more in hope than expectation. “Goodbye diary”, says Anne.

William McKim as Anne’s father, Otto, makes us feel his pain for the loss of not only Anne but her mother and daughter. His monologues at the opening and end of the play are very moving.

Tom Wyeth gives strong performances as Mr Dussel and – in Anne’s dream – as Winston Churchill. Anne imagines she is interviewing Churchill. Then we hear part of the famous speech ending “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning”.

Elysia Knight is convincing as Anne’s mother, Edith, and has a good singing voice. She sings a solo of ‘Helping Hands’ and then the rest of the cast join in.  Jodi Jefferies portrays Margot, Anne’s older sister, with panache.

Clear direction; excellent sound effects; atmospheric music and lighting; and a simple set all enhance this engrossing production.

Anne Frank will always be remembered for her diary, but her father tells us:” I would gladly swap it, throw it away, or have it unwritten if only I could have Anne again, living.”

Reviewer: Tom Scott

Reviewed: 10th August 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.