Firstly, to attribute credit where it is due: it is an incredibly difficult task to translate and adapt such a classic and pivotal piece of children’s literature into an original piece of theatre. I remember, as I am sure thousands of young people do, reading The Diary of Anne Frank as a child and finding it a terrifying and eye-opening insight into the horror of Nazi Germany, and yet being somehow able to relate to this lone girl as she attempted to understand her situation. Dealing with such an iconic book is a challenge for any director, especially if they choose to aim it at children who may not understand it.
In this production, the Ensemble Theatre Company reset Anne Frank’s story to post war Japan. In a mixture of Japanese and English, the play opened with a monologue performed by the younger of the two actresses which described how the rose commemorating Anne Frank was first discovered.
This was done with the stage covered in petals and a faint pink wash from above. Although the roses did add a very beautiful and delicate side to the aesthetics of the show, I felt that this element was not needed, as it did not contribute to the narrative apart from providing us with background information. The main story was told by two young women and a band of classical musicians who created a live soundscape of authentic World War Two gunfire and air raid sirens using a piano, cello and violin. This worked quite beautifully, although it was sometimes difficult to hear the actors speaking despite most of the narration being provided by voiceover. The play itself did not feature Anne Frank but used the thoughts of her immediate family and characters that were present in her diary to show how her story is timeless and continuous.
Relating Anne Frank’s legacy to events in Japan and using the Japanese language within the text was something I found slightly misleading as, unless you understood the overall aim, it was difficult to see how this was relevant. It was also hard to believe that this production was aimed at children as the style and narrative were not particularly accessible. There was also a distinct lack of structure within the writing - the scenes did not follow on from each other and the narrative was confused at times. The symbolic and philosophical nature of the issues being discussed had immense theatrical potential but the vision was lost entirely due to over-complication. It was also difficult to understand some of the language due to the strong Japanese accents.
However, some elements of the show were successful; the music and visual stimuli were beautiful. I did find it enjoyable, just not as challenging and stimulating as expected from something based on such a thought-provoking book.