Interview: LUTG’s The Diary of Anne Frank

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LUTG presents ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’, this Saturday and Monday at The Storey in Lancaster. Ahead of the show, SCAN spoke to director Aurelia Gage and stars Anna-Rose van der Wiel and James Bone.

We all know the story of Anne Frank, but how does that work as a play?

Aurelia: That’s one of the difficult things, because obviously it’s a real story and you don’t know what to dramatize and what to embellish. At the beginning of the process I went through five versions of the play, and I went for the classic adaptation written in the 1950s. It’s a very toned-down version, it kept the bare facts but there’s no real epic drama. I chose one that was very true to illustrating how the characters were. They’re the whole reason why it was created, so you don’t want to create something that never really happened.

What made you want to get involved in this production?

James: I’d worked as an actor under Aurelia’s direction before, and it improved me as an actor, so I wanted to improve again.

Anna: Having read the Diary of Anne Frank, obviously it’s a story that we all know. It’s just a great opportunity to be able to play that big of a role and to be part of this play, which is just facts and isn’t trying to massively dramatize it.

Aurelia: It seemed perfect because I’ve loved the Diary of Anne Frank ever since I could read. It’s my last LUTG show, so I wanted to do something that was personal for me, and assemble a team where it would be personal for them in different ways. All of the cast and crew were either finding out more about Anne Frank during the process, or they got involved because they wanted to be a part of this story and just have that little bit of input into a story they’ve taken so much from.

It’s a complex story to tell – both heartwarming and tragic. What sort of atmosphere are you aiming to create?

Aurelia: All the plays I’ve done before have had a very straight story, so it’s either a comedy or a tragedy and you know what you have to do to get to that place. With this play, it hasn’t been that simple. What we’ve tried to create is a play that takes advantage of the audience’s previous knowledge. The tragic, gritty details don’t, in our mind, have anything to do with who these people are. The fact that they died in such horrific ways doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that one was a really loving mother, and another was a really fun child. What makes the show so interesting is that it’s just a series of ordinary lives in extraordinary conditions. You see little pockets of everyday life.

How does your approach to acting change when you’re portraying real people on stage?

James: You want to stay away from mimicry, because it can become too cartoonish. We watched videos of Otto Frank, and we wanted to convey the emotion he was feeling rather than a direct impersonation, because we felt it was more true to the story if we infected it with our own personalities. Early on, we researched our characters and found out things like what they studied at university, or what job they had before the German occupation. Those things influenced me, the certain ways he speaks or knows about the world.

Anna: For me, playing Anne Frank, the diary is an obvious place to look for characterization, but again it’s not trying to imitate the character because it would be too much like a caricature, it wouldn’t be right. So it’s more drawing on personal experiences, and looking at how a 13-year-old would react in those situations.

What challenges did you face during the acting process?

Anna: One challenge is that the play lasts two hours, but is intended to span the two years they spend in the annexe. So Anne grows up from a 13-year-old girl to a 15-year-old girl, which is quite a big difference at that age. That’s quite difficult, but it helps to think about what they go through at all these different stages, and how that would change her over time. And obviously, because she’s such a well-known figure, you don’t want to do it wrong.

James: It’s by far the gentlest role I’ve ever had to play, playing the role of a father. Having to be very emotionally open with other characters isn’t really something I’ve ever been asked to do, but Otto is quite openly affectionate towards his daughters. The script makes him seem like a very fundamentally good human being who cared about people, and trying to convey that side of him has been the biggest challenge because I’m used to trying to make my characters seem more bastardly.

When adapting a successful show, do you aim to emulate what made it good or put your own spin on it?

Aurelia: We have to consider the feasibility of doing it. We found that it was made for off-Broadway, so they have unlimited budgets, they’ve made like a life-size doll house on stage with different floors, and they’ve got really realist staging. We’re a student society so there’s no way we can reach that. When you’re limited in that sense, it gives you an opportunity to be more creative. The best times to be creative are when you absolutely have to be. We saw the obstacles we were going to face, and we took it as an opportunity to put our own spin on it.

If anyone was still on the fence about coming to see the show, how would you convince them?

James: If you do come you’ll be surprised, because it is very funny and at times very light-hearted. I think that’s one of the reasons that people will enjoy it, is that it doesn’t linger on the tragedy of their lives; as Aurelia said their lives weren’t how they ended, their lives were how they were lived, so that’s the side of it that we’re mainly showing.

Anna: If you were worried about the story being blown out of proportion and overly dramatized, then that’s not at all what it is, it’s just about their lives in the annexe. So you should come and see it.

The Diary of Anne Frank is showing at The Storey this Saturday (7:30pm) and Monday (2:30pm and 7:30pm).

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