I remember learning about the Diary of Anne Frank in school when I had never heard of the word ‘holocaust’ before. I remember the profound effect it had on the other children in the class, and I even recall a friend in her teens re-reading it. This is one of the reasons why I was, so, keen to see About Turn Theatre’s very own mono-opera at Edinburgh Fringe.
It is the first show I have seen so far, since flying in from Heathrow this morning, and it is more than I had envisioned. Rather than a simple retelling of a young Jewish girl’s diary and the injustice many Jewish communities suffered in the 1930s, it looks to the future and the lessons of the past. These are the inspirational ideas of its director Sebastian Ukena, where a clever 15-year-old girl wrote the poignant words, ‘I must hold on to my ideals. Perhaps the day will come when I’ll be able to realize them.’
At The Space (Venue 45), Anne faces you, smiling and ready to read her diary to you. It’s fascinating to hear the first few words of the diary sung by Polly Ott who gives a bold and strong performance, portraying Anne’s turbulent journey through it all. No doubt – it is obvious – she plays a young Anne, yet her depiction of her is a confident and articulate one, of a girl attuned with her emotions and fully aware of the world that is crumbling around her.
Her hair is neat, and her jumper and skirt are as minimal as any schoolgirl stripped away from her dreams. After each scene, of which there are 19, Ott brings out a photograph of a child from a different part of the world. This captures the voices of various children who also suffered under genocide and civil wars, and never had the opportunity to write down their experiences in a diary.
Cypriot concert pianist Stavroula Thoma also gives an effective and thoughtful performance with an atmospheric score, composed by Grigori Frid, which blends into the words sung by Ott. Together they reflect the highs and lows of Frank’s unstable and petrifying experience. The scenes veer from happiness, suspense, and fear from her birthday with many gifts, the first notice from the Gestapo and the intensifying scene where the Nazis find Anne and her family hiding in the attic.
With some charming scenes lyrically sung, there are disturbing ones too of a crucial period of history. You won’t be leaving the venue with a happy song to sing, but a reminder of how some parts of the world, unfortunately, haven’t progressed from history’s mistakes.
More information about About Turn Theatre can be found here:
Anne is performed by Polly Ott and Vera Hiltbrunner.