The Diary of Anne Frank, Strode Theatre Company, Street

THE conspiracy and cock-up theories of history collide in the story of Anne Frank and her family and her diary.

The grotesque “final solution” of the Holocaust, the industrialised slaughter of European Jewry by the Nazis, was carefully planned.

But it was a succession of unplanned events and accidents – the gift of a diary to an exceptionally gifted young girl, a burglary at the building where the Frank family were hiding, the courage of Dutch patriots who hid the family for more than two years and then found and hid the diary left when they were arrested – that gave the world an insight into the suffering of people whose only crime was their ethnicity and the astonishing courage of ordinary people who tried to hide them.

The Diary of Anne Frank, found and kept safe by Miep Giesl, was eventually published by her father Otto, the only survivor of the concentration camps to which the family was sent in 1944. It told a story of claustrophobic life in an attic from July 1942 to August 1944, and the explosive tensions and emotions that ripped through the eight people hiding there, the Franks with their two daughters, the Van Daans and their son Peter and the dentist Mr Dussel.

They are ordinary people, not heroes, and Anne herself is a teenager with all the boiling hormones and stroppy rebelliousness of her age.

Strode Theatre Company chose the dramatisation of Anne Frank’s diary by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett for their early autumn production, on at Strode Theatre, Street, until Saturday 27th September.

Director Dominic Sandford describes it as an “extraordinary yet paradoxical story,” with the courage of a young girl set against the backdrop of human terror and suffering, a story that must never be forgotten, because “Anne’s belief in the ‘goodness’ of humanity is truly inspirational.”

The pace in the first act is slow – the scene changes behind a black cloth are too slow – but in the second act the tension ratchets up steadily till we can hardly breathe.

In a strong cast, Florence Nicholson-Lailey grows into the central role of Anne, as she moves from the spoiled daddy’s girl to the courageous young woman who never stops looking ahead to a better world for young people like her and Peter and her sister Margot.

Will Howlett similarly manages the transition from the surly and tongue-tied Peter (who can blame him for wanting to keep away from his selfish and warring parents?) into the brave young man who finds a soul-mate in Anne.

Olwen Herridge has the difficult role of Mrs Frank, a kind and good woman who struggles to understand her intelligent and rebellious daughter. Her explosion in the second act packs a powerful punch because her demeanour up to that moment has been so quiet and contained.

William Salmon conveys the strength of Otto Frank, whose courage and self-discipline holds the group together, and who has to come to terms with being the sole survivor.

The final curtain call sequence is bleak, harrowing and powerful. It is a courageous way to close a play and the Strode audience repaid the cast’s deeply felt performances with a silence in which you could hear a pin drop.


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