The emotional story of a young Jewish girl and her family who were forced into hiding during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam during the second World War is coming to Thomas Haney secondary’s Sightlines Theatre.
Anne Frank’s story started a couple of days after she received a blank diary as a present for her birthday on June 12, 1942. As the 13-year-old began to record the details of her daily life, daily life for her family was becoming increasingly difficult under the German occupation of the Netherlands.
A day after her sister Margot received a summons to report to a Nazi work camp in Germany, Anne’s family, including her father Otto and mother Edith, went into hiding in the sealed-off upper rooms in the annex at the back of Otto’s pectin company building, concealed by a movable bookcase. The family was joined by Otto’s business partner Hermann van Pels and his wife Auguste, their teenage son Peter and his dentist Fritz Pfeffer, where they lived in hiding for more than two years before they were discovered and sent to concentration camps.
Anne documented those years in her diary and school notebooks that were discovered by the Dutch citizens who helped to hide them only after their arrest. They were given back to Otto after the end of the war. He was the only one of the group to survive.
The Diary of Anne Frank was first published in the Netherlands as Het Achterhuis, The Annex, in 1947, followed by Germany and France in 1950, and the United Kingdom and United States in 1952.
The play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett first premiered in New York City in 1955 and won a Pulitzer Prize for drama.
Marlowe Evans, who plays Anne in the play, thinks that The Diary of Anne Frank is becoming increasingly relevant in today’s political climate.
“You think about what Anne and her family went through and you think about what people are going through right now. All over the world there are all kinds of people who are dredging up anti-Semitism and hate crimes,” said the Grade 12 Thomas Haney secondary student.
Evans has kept a diary since Grade 7 and when she first read The Diary of Anne Frank, she was amazed with how her diary entries from when she was 13 years old were so like Anne’s, especially when Anne wrote about her relationship with Peter.
“It was so funny to see how her first relationships were just as awkward and difficult as my first relationships. In the play, that really comes across,” said Evans.
In one scene of the play, Anne and Peter are sitting awkwardly on a bed and he pours her an orange soda.
“It’s like this fantastic experience and Anne writes in her diary, I’m not in love, actually I live for the next meeting,” explained Evans.
“She is so dramatic in everything that she writes and it is so reminiscent of what I wrote at that age because, when you are a 13-year-old girl writing in your diary, you do make everything sound dramatic,” she continued.
Evans is especially proud of the set that took three months to create.
“They have this small room that’s their main area where they have their kitchen. We have a real sink and a wood burning stove and a little kitchen stove and all these crates around because we are trying to keep the sense of closeness and cramped-ness that it had in real life,” said Evans.
Peter has his own room that is on a little raised platform with a door. Then there is another little room with an upper level with windows that look out on the street below. Then there is a second level to the set. Over top the kitchen there is a platform 2.4 metres high and where Hermann van Pels and his wife Auguste sleep.
Evans says the play can be lighthearted and funny even thought it deals with such sad subject matter.
“You’ll probably cry, but you will laugh a lot, too,” said Evans.
The most powerful moment for her is when, after the end of the war, Anne’s father finds a woman who knew Anne in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where she died. He has already learned about the passing of his wife and eldest daughter Margot, as well.
“He just sits down in a chair and says, ‘Anne, I still had hope, but I know now.’ And there is a voice recording that plays where I say, ‘And I still believe in spite of everything that people really are good at heart,’” said Evans.
“It is just such an emotional moment because, until the very end of her life, Anne had the sense that people really were good,” Evans continued.
This is the message Evans would like people to take away from the production.
“We’re in a time where you are questioning the good in people, where you can’t necessarily see that everyone has good in them anymore because we are dealing with issues like anti-Semitism, homophobia and racism,” Evans explained.
“I think the message is that maybe there is still good in people, but you just have to look harder,” she said.
“If you stand up for what you believe in and you speak out, then maybe it will get better.”