by Lynn on July 2, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Avon Theatre, Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ontario.

Written by Frances Goodwin and Albert Hackett
Adapted by Wendy Kesselman
Directed by Jillian Keiley
Designed by Bretta Gerecke
Sound by Don Ellis
Lighting by Leigh Ann Vardy
Composed by Jonathan Monro
Starring: Maeve Beaty
Kevin Bundy
Sara Farb
Ryan Field
Yanna McIntosh
André Morin
Christopher Morris
Lucy Peacock
Shannon Taylor
Joseph Ziegler

A play about survival, heroism and selflessness in terrible times. The cast is terrific even though the director does everything to smother the wonder of the play.

The Story. It takes place in Amsterdam from 1942 to 1944. Mr. and Mrs. Frank and their daughters Margot the oldest and Anne 13, go into hiding in a secret annex in Mr. Frank’s office building. A few days before Margot got a letter from the invading Germans ordering her to be relocated to work. Young women were getting such letters in all the countries that Germany invaded. They would be carted off and never seen again.

The Frank family is joined by Mr. and Mrs. van Daan (Mr. Van Daan is Mr. Frank’s partner) and their son Peter and his cat. And later they are joined by Mr. Dussel, a dentist. It’s pretty crowded up there in that annex. They are brought food and news of what is going on by Miep and Mr. Kraler, both friends of Mr. Frank.

During the day the annex occupants had to be totally silent so as not to give themselves away to the people working in the office below. At 6 o’clock the staff leaves and the people in the hiding place upstairs (behind a huge bookcase) could make as much noise as they want and cook a meagre dinner etc.

They all try to act as normally as possible. Anne begins to keep a diary of her time in the annex, observing her parents, sister and the others. She documents her thoughts, feelings, anxieties and hopes. The result is the writing of a precocious, thoughtful, philosophical, occasionally petulant young teen, mature way past her years. Anne wanted to be a famous writer. To that end, she kept on editing her diary until it was polished. She got her wish—in death she became a famous writer. Imagine the writing that would have resulted had she lived.

The Diary of Anne Frank is a hugely powerful book.

The Production
. By the sheer force of the harrowing story and the resultant play you are drawn into the world that Anne and her family and friends lived in for those many months.

I wish it was an equally powerful production but it isn’t because of the maddeningly intrusive, attention grabbing direction of Jillian Keiley and her slavish efforts to be provocative. The result is a production that constantly distracts us from the work and ahead of it all is a director who seems to think she’s more important than the play she is directing.

For example before the show begins Keiley has the whole cast file out across the stage, in costume. In turn they introduce themselves and who they play and a little anecdote that might connect them to the play.


It stops the production and establishes confusion. Who are the actors and how do we keep them connected with their character even before the performance begins? Why should we care about the story they created if we don’t have context into who they are? Keep it for rehearsal.

Is Keiley trying to establish that we are in a theatre and the actors are putting on a play? HUH? I know it’s billed as Schulick Children’s Plays and therefore part of the family experience, but have a bit of faith in the intelligence of your audience!

Keiley has also added a chorus which sometimes provides sung music underscoring scenes. Unnecessary. Again, it’s distracting and adds to the sense that the director has no faith in the play to tell its story.

Bretta Gerecke has designed a two levelled set bordered by three walls of slatted, light coloured wood. The van Daans live in the upper level; the Franks in the lower level. The two side walls are not at right angles to the back wall and are spread out from it, giving the space a sense of perspective. When the production really begins a staircase in the same rich wood, slides out of the up stage right hand side of the back wall. The staircase leads to the upper level and the van Daan’s space. A table appears. Chairs in the same slatted wood is assembled easily. All I can think of is “Ikea.” I don’t think that’s a good thing. Occasionally when a scene takes place in Anne and Margot’s room a metal contraption slides out from the wall defining the size of the room. When we realize what that contraption is it’s clever, but before that, confusing.

In the text of the play there are segments of Anne’s voice reciting from the diary, putting matters in context, connecting us to her. After all it is Anne Frank’s diary.

In Keiley’s production she has a member of the chorus read those sections standing at the lip of the stage, paperback edition of the book in hand. The result is that instead of bringing us into the play these readings by characters who are not Anne Frank distance us from the reading and the character who wrote the passage.

Keiley has created a particular vocabulary of stylized movement for her productions involving tempo, a musical counting and strict timing to the words. It is very effective for shows she builds working closely with her writing collaborators. It worked last year with the fantasy world of Alice Through the Looking Glass.

It doesn’t work with The Diary of Anne Frank.

One segment is read in which it says that Anne could, if necessary, sit still for hours. Here Keiley has Anne moving frantically around the set doing particular movements, perhaps dancing. It’s completely at odds with the text. Too often the movement and direction are at odds with what is being read by the chorus. There is the hard-working cast doing this stylized, robotic movement, suggesting exercise or doing chores, again taking us out of the moment. It’s a rare scene or two that we actually see Anne writing in her diary when sections of it are read.

In one scene just before the intermission Mr. Dussel and Peter have a fight about Peter’s cat. Mr. Dussel doesn’t like cats and the cat antagonizes his asthma. Peter stomps up the stairs to his room to tend to the cat. Mr. Dussel slowly goes up the stairs and stands outside the door to Peter’s room. We might (incorrectly) think that Mr. Dussel will apologize to Peter, hazarding an asthma attack. But no. This is just another chance that Keiley can fashion a pretty picture of the rest of the cast, each standing on a step of that staircase, pose and then lights out to end the act.


One of the most egregious blunders of Keiley’s suffocating direction is when Maev Beaty, as the Chorus, reads the famous passage at the end in which Anne says with laughter, a kind-heart and optimism: ‘In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.'” It’s a line that is full of irony because at that point the Nazis are about to find them.

But in this production Beaty says it when the Nazis have found them and are yelling in the background and tearing the place apart. Beaty is directed to read it with edge, anger and bite and she has to yell it over the noise in the background. All irony is dashed and once again our attention is pulled from the dialogue of the play to the action behind.


This is not to say I found nothing redeeming in this production. I did. To a person the acting is terrific. As Anne, Sara Farb is a mixture of flighty impishness and deep emotion; watchful, perceptive. This is a beautiful performance.

As Mr. Frank, Joseph Ziegler is the peacemaker, always gently getting between Anne and her mother. Mr. Frank is courtly, thoughtful and always hopeful because of Ziegler’s playing of him.

Lucy Peacock plays Mrs. Frank as an anxious, fretting woman who is so desperately trying to hang on to some normalcy. She is diplomatic but resents the loss of privacy and boy, she sure doesn’t like the van Daans.

Mrs. Van Daan is also anxious and at odds with her unsupporting husband. Yanna McIntosh plays her with a wounded heart, frustration, and a need to cling to things that are comfortable. The object of her ire is Kevin Bundy’s Mr. van Daan, a man desperate for a cigarette, more food, and frustration with Anne.

As Peter van Daan, André Morin is a mass of insecurities, shyness, meekness and eventually confidence. He is a lovely foil for Farb’s Anne.

Christopher Morris as Mr Dussel has a nervous fastidiousness that is quite effective.

Maev Beaty plays Miep who knows the horrors outside the annex but every time she appears brings hope and good cheer and a sense of caring.

There’s an effect at the end, when doors made of the slats of the walls of the annex swing open with the annex occupants behind them. The sound of a train is heard and instantly we are looking at them being taken to a concentration camp. Very effective, that.

In the end, Mr. Frank comes back—he is the only one to survive—to find the diary on the floor. He puts it in his pocket. He says he lost everything except this….and takes out the published book of The Diary of Anne Frank and hands it to a patron in the front row. It’s a hugely moving and powerful moment in a production with so few of them.

Comment. I think The Diary of Anne Frank is one of the greatest books documenting a coming of age of a 13 year old girl named Anne Frank, set against the backdrop of the Nazi invasion in the Netherlands. And the play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett and adapted by Wendy Kesselman do the source material proud. I just wish that director Jillian Keiley did the play and got out of the way.

Presented by the Stratford Festival.

Run: May 28 to Oct. 10, 2015.
Cast: 13; 8 men, 5 women
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes, approx..

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