"Tragic Story of Hidden Family"
by Cheryl Rowlands for remotegoat on 31/01/18

I had really been looking forward to this production and it did not disappoint. There was almost a full house for the Opening Night and lovely programmes including a timeline and quote from Anne herself, the production having meant a great deal to the cast and crew who did their research thoroughly and with Producer Jack Turner recounting his own experience of visiting the Secret Annexe at the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam along with a foreword from Director Phoebe Mulcahy.

The set was dressed as the Secret Annexe where the Frank and Van Daan families (later joined by the rather irritating Mr Dussel, played expertly by Martin Whatley), lived in hiding for two years before they were betrayed by person unknown (presumably a thief performing a burglary one night and heard them).

As the audience settled into their seats, sound effects of war planes flying overhead and gunfire could be heard, and set the scene beautifully.

There was lots of tension every time the group thought they had been discovered and it really made you think about how they coped with the conditions under which they were living - in a cramped space, not being able to go out, living on top of each other, constantly in fear for their lives, not being able to make a sound or go out and live a normal life for two years, only to be discovered after all that effort and then be separated and transferred to Concentration Camps. Sadly out of this entire group of people, only Otto Frank survived, having received the diary from Miep (played sympathetically by Brittanny Wallis) who had gone back, against orders, to collect some of their belongings. Both Miep and Jan Kraler (Brian Patterson) risked their own lives in providing food etc for the group.

There were some comic moments , for example, when Anne recounted some of the tricks she had played on people in the Secret Annexe in what was otherwise an extremely fraught and frightening situation. It is easy however, to see how frustrations and resentment could build - especially when Mr Van Daan is discovered in the middle of the night, stealing bread from the rest of the group. He came across as quite a selfish man as was also illustrated in the way he callously gave his wife's fur coat to Miep to sell. Despite his observation that she had no need for the coat when everyone was in desperate need of food, it was one of the few treasured possessions she had left in such difficult times - something which he failed to appreciate. I really felt for her at that point.

Excellent performances by Anne (Lottie Elcoate), Peter Van Daan (George Dix) and the Van Daans (Andy Cork and Liz Hume). Craig Weaver was a strong presence in Otto Frank and the close relationship between him and his daughter was highlighted by the distance between Anne and her Mother (played to great effect by Poppy Hocken), the bond between Edith Frank and her elder daughter, Margot Frank (Eleanor Hocken) being obviously so much stronger - especially highlighted when sleeping arrangements are re-arranged to accommodate the arrival of Mr Dussel.

As Anne and Peter are talking, I loved the interaction between Mr and Mrs Van Daan over the fur coat incident and by the same token, when they are all eating cake, the way that Peter is upset over the disappearance of his cat. With the focus on the cake eating, I wonder how many other members of the audience noticed this? George Dix was brilliant - my favourite character in this production.

To begin with I thought the portrayal of Anne Frank was too childish with the high squeaky voice, however Lottie Elcoate's portrayal was fabulous, and really brought the character to life. Despite the fraught circumstances, I could see she was probably extremely irritating to live with, however her legacy is one that will live on forever.

The production runs at the Alma Theatre from 28th January to 3rd February and then moves to the Rhondo Theatre in Bath from 7th - 10th February.

Late finish, but well worth going along. Together with Stage Management by Laura Perry and Technical Assistance from Ed-Monster Events, it is truly a fabulous production. Well done to all.

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