BLOG Devi Boulton

NWR Issue 110

Dreams of Anne Frank

Fewer names invoke catharsis than that of Anne Frank. Her diary, written in hiding during the German occupation of Holland is one of the most read non-fiction book in the world. Yet its longevity in the global consciousness has more to do with the relatability of its content, the personal feelings of a teenage girl, than any military conflict coinciding with her subterfuge. It is this paradox of freedom during captivity that gives Bernard Kops’ play room to breathe, despite the familiarity of the subject matter, and specifically the abrupt and heart-breaking ending.

Focused on Anne’s imagination, the story alternates between day-to-day monotony and a teenager’s restless future dreamings. Sprinkled with songs, stand-up, and the occasional dance number, the seven cast members seamlessly switch between the two states, reality and fantasy, with only a blue light, acting as an indicator for the audience, indicating which is which.

Performed by the Art Centre Youth Theatre, the key players demonstrate adaptive range, together with help from the chorus. The metamorphosis of Dutch annex to haunted forest – with all the characters, save Anne, acting as trees – to gingerbread house, to Jewish wedding was seamless; and despite the fantastic element, remained believable, the audience invited inside Anne’s dreams, her subconscious playing out for our approval.

Yet Kops, and director Barrie Stott, use this fantastic aspect more than just as simple relief from the boredom of captivity, or even a teenager’s romantic fantasy. One dream sees Anne roam the streets of Amsterdam at night, meeting with a Dutch Nazi who argues for the Holocaust as a necessary expedition of Hitler’s united Europe. The scene finishes with Anne murdering the man before waking, elated, declaring Hitler himself dead. The elation of other characters quickly turns to frustration and anger when they realise the deception of Anne’s dream; the disillusion is keenly felt by both cast and audience.

The inevitable finally arrives, the character’s frequently asked question, ‘Are we betrayed?’ finally proving correct. A tableau is animated, from annex, to train, to striped pyjama-clad witnesses, at unflinching speed, until nothing but a pile of clothes remain (the latter also being present in the opening scene). The story’s sole survivor, Otto Frank’s narration provides closure, but his admission that he would gladly trade his daughter’s diary, and all the accompanying historical accolades, to have her alive again stands as a reminder for us to cherish what is truly valuable, and to how precious family can be. Anne’s final act on stage was an impassioned cry to be remembered and her kissing her beloved diary comes close to being a religious gesture. Both prove to be true: she is still remembered and her book is revered. As the UK goes to war today, the words of a young hopeful, idealist Dutch girl resonate more than ever.

Devi Boulton is postgraduate candidate in the department of English and Creative Writing, Aberystwyth University

‘Dreams of Anne Frank’ by Bernard Kops, was an Arts Centre Youth Theatre production at Aberystwyth Arts Centre on 20 November 2015


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