Review | The Diary of Anne Frank, Accidental Death of an Anarchist

Theatre Reviews

The Diary of Anne Frank

Maitland Repertory, at its theatre

Ends October 7

DIRECTORS Guil Noronha and Lesley Coombes inspected the Anne Frank House while in Amsterdam and that certainly is evident in their staging of The Diary of Anne Frank. The set reproduces the small three level warehouse attic area where the Frank family and other Jewish refugees hid for two years from the Nazis in World War II, with the tightness of the tiny rooms the eight residents shared impacting on their behaviour and attitudes towards each other. That is shown in the voices, expressions and movements of the actors, headed by Abbey Matt as the initially 13-year-old Anne. They are very down-to-earth figures, poignant at times but also raising smiles and laughs in some situations.

Anne’s diary, which was a gift from her father when the Franks moved into the attic in mid-1942 to avoid being sent to a concentration camp, movingly showed what life in the attic was like, with her father, Otto, who was the only survivor after the inhabitants were found and deported in 1944, having it published after a former employee gave it to him when he returned at war’s end to see what had become of the hidden living area. That return opens the play, adapted by American writers Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett from the diary with his consent, and it has moved audiences since its premiere in 1955.

Abbey Matt’s Anne is a teenage girl who quickly adjusts to life in a small and restricted area. But her expressions and words as she gets older show her need for a more normal life, and she is attracted to Peter Van Daan, the shy and quiet son of another family in the attic who is three years older than her. There’s an affecting and charming scene where Anne and Peter (played by Chris Henderson) meet in the tiny highest level of the attic.

Anne’s father, Otto (Ian Robinson), is polite and practical and comforts her when the need arises, while her mother, Edith (Dimity Eveleens), is reserved and nervous, and wishes Anne was more proper and polite. Anne’s older sister, Margot (Giverny Burke), is quiet and reserved and more like their mother.

Putti Van Daan (Brian Randell), the head of the other resident family, is a selfish and irritable former business partner of Mr Frank, and is critical of Anne’s behaviour. His wife, Petronella (Jo Cooper), is vain and finicky and snappily protective of her belongings, especially a fur coat. The other resident, dentist Mr Dussel (Oliver Pink), is difficult to get along with, and demands privacy. The other characters are two people who help the residents, by bringing them food and information: Miep (Anna Balfour), a secretary in Mr Frank’s office, and businessman Mr Kraler (Alastair Anderberg), who risks his life to help his friends.

Accidental Death of an Anarchist

Two Tall Theatre, at Civic Playhouse

Ends September 24

THE main character in Dario Fo’s darkly farcical comedy is known as the Maniac, but he came across as the most sensible and trustworthy character in Theo Rule’s amusing portrayal, as he tried to get police to tell the truth about the death of a so-called anarchist when he fell from a fourth floor in a police building.

The Maniac is initially seen being questioned by police after being arrested for a trivial matter. But he is soon the one doing the questioning, dressing himself as a judge, a forensic expert with a false eye, leg and arm, and a bishop. The other actors, as various ranks of police and an investigative female journalist, added to the humour and pretence.

Fo based the play, which was first staged in Italy in 1970, on an incident that happened the previous year, when a man who was being interrogated by police in Milan fell to his death from a high window. While the play met with rebukes from government officials and was banned in some towns, it is a timeless work, showing how executives try to manipulate people to get the result they want. Fo drew on the style of Italy’s classical commedia dell'arte plays, which used seemingly improvised dialogue and colourful stock characters to grab and hold the attention of watchers.

The Maniac’s swift character changes to enable him to get what he perceives as truthful responses from those he is dealing with certainly have an air of improvisation. The other characters, likewise, show the narrowness of their viewpoints and actions. The actors, under the astute direction of Cheryl Sovechles, certainly made them people whose behaviour watchers would recognise.

Barry Shepherd’s Inspector Bertozzo was a humourless figure who became the butt of jokes and physical abuse. Patrick Campbell’s Superintendent was ill-tempered and uncompromising, as the Maniac repeatedly pointed out the inconsistencies in his statements. Jared Mainey was an inspector referred to by the Maniac as Sports Jacket because of the style of his coat, and incriminated himself as the Maniac noted the contradictions in his story. And Carl Gregory’s mainly voiceless Constable was a bumbling and incompetent bystander.

Jema Wright’s journalist, like the police based on a real person, was the play’s sole serious character, with her questioning showing her experience in dealing with disparities as she tried to uncover the truth about the death of the anarchist.

The play held the attention of watchers throughout the two acts, with Matthew Lockyer’s sets and the lighting by Lyndon Buckley and Andrew Moore giving reality to the rooms in the multi-storey police headquarters.