Living after death

Frank’s familiar and unique voice haunts the stage

Kimberly Sakkal steps into the heroine’s sassy role.
Kimberly Sakkal steps into the heroine’s sassy role.
Photo: 
Queen’s students Amanda Weltman and Davina Finn direct this heart-wrenching rendition of the classic play Anne Frank.
Queen’s students Amanda Weltman and Davina Finn direct this heart-wrenching rendition of the classic play Anne Frank.
Photo: 
Photo: 

Sitting in the dimly lit silence of the Wellington Street Theatre, I noticed the old cathedral windows are covered with black tapestry, save for a thin beam of fading sunlight that glows red through a sliver of cloth. Everyone was completely quiet, except for an eerie tape of children laughing, street organs and wartime telegraph messages. Looking on at the blue spot-lit stage, I noticed an ashtray, old shoes, chairs flipped over; the same black shades over their windows. I felt strangely hidden. I knew this story from somewhere.

Familiarity wrapped the audience when they heard a young girl’s voice over the loudspeaker. Anne Frank’s tale had begun, very much in her own words.

Directed by Queen’s students Amanda Weltman and Davina Finn, Anne Frank is a hopeful and heart-wrenching recollection of a life terrorized by war, untouched by cynicism and immortalized in a diary. The real-life tale follows Anne Frank—played with animation and sass by Kimberly Sakkal—her family and the events of their hiding from June of 1942 to August 1944. This theatrical adaptation is fiercely loyal in its rich illumination of the characters’ idiosyncrasies and foibles, and authenticity of setting. Meant to recapture the refuge of Otto Frank’s office attic, the set design leant a great amount of humanity and nuance to the storyline. The stage felt lived-in—even if hesitantly—with beds, dishevelled from restless sleep, books read as a distraction from the marching men outdoors and cognac for the celebration of going one more day undetected. The open-air set offered an almost voyeuristic angle into the lives of the Franks and Van Daans; while we watched Mrs. Frank knit to pass the time, there was Mr. Frank in the background, heaving a resigned sigh while peeking through the black curtains.

As the play began, we were met head-on with the grief of a father and husband, his profound loss and steadfast nature embodied impressively by Matt McFetridge. Travelling back through the journal to years past, we encountered the remaining Franks: a mother with a preference for manners and the distraction of busywork (Blythe Hubbard), and two daughters, opposite as they are in age and demeanour. Margot’s (Sara Cabrera-Aragon) sweet and shy bookish qualities are all the more highlighted by Anne’s precocious influx of endless optimistic questions about the world outside her hidden window; about love; about what it means to be 13.

As the war trudges on, we become acquainted with the tornado of emotions that is the Van Daan family; a heavy-handed husband, a spunky Mrs. Van Daan and Peter, a painfully introverted lad at the mercy of his parents’ volatile exchanges with only a furry feline to befriend.

Ironically, it’s in the close quarters of the Annex where the distances between character personalities seem to grow more apparent. Mrs. Frank’s frigidity is all the more salient during the moments Mrs. Van Daan instructs Anne on how to respond to interested gentlemen. Mr. Frank’s integrity is made clear when he discovers Mr. Van Daan stealing the children’s bread rations. And certainly not least, is Anne’s joie de vivre in moments when she ponders the future in Peter’s room, when he would undoubtedly rather play with Mushi, his cat.

The direction and interaction of the characters in this particular adaptation is what re-invigorates the humanity of Anne Frank’s story, the very virtue which made this favourite tale so touching to people worldwide in the first place. When you see the sparks of first love ignite in Peter and Anne’s shy playtime exchanges, it reminds you of the fumbled affections of the first stages of your own adolescence. When Anne sits in her father’s arms after a frightening nightmare, her fear is palpable and almost recognizable. Finally, when you hear Anne’s conviction as she rhymes off her future ambitions to be a singer, a dancer, a journalist living in Paris, you hope in earnest for her wishes to be fulfilled, yet know the untimely and tragic end that inevitably awaits her.

In spite of all of their hardships, the war, the isolation, the anxious desperation of everyday life, the message of the unwavering human spirit remains clear in this theatrical representation.

While the transcendence of the human experience—even 65 years later—is integral to this re-enactment, it is not what carries it. The truth of this piece belongs to the glint of a tear in Mr. Dussel’s (Scott Murray) eye as he awaits his fate on D-Day, the unearthed ferocity in Mrs. Frank’s voice when she kicks out her former friends, and the bubbly voice of a girl we once knew played overhead that says, in spite of everything, “I still believe people are really good at heart.”

Anne Frank runs Thursday, March 26 to Saturday, March 28 at Wellington Street Theatre.

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