May 8th is the premier showing of ‘Anne,’ the theatre production inspired by Anne Frank’s life. It’s been controversial from the start. The most recent cat amongst the pigeons is the option of booking dinner followed by the show. How dare people go out and enjoy a slap-up meal before watching a young life being snuffed out by a Fascist regime!
This whole brouhaha around Anne made me think about the concept of making entertainment from someone else’s suffering. All fiction is based on conflict of some kind. It’s not interesting to read about someone who is happy, healthy, well-off and loved by family and friends. Our imagination is captured by someone who misses something in their lives and this absence causes them pain. This schadenfreud (for want of a better word) is made acceptable by the fact that the character is fictional. We don’t feel it’s wrong to go and enjoy shows such as ‘Oliver,’ or ‘Cinderella’, stories both centring around social injustice and child abuse. We can take comfort in the knowledge that Oliver and Cinderella are fictional characters, and perhaps more importantly, be consoled by the stories’ happy outcomes.
Anne Frank was a well-educated and intelligent young woman who had the gift of being able to write eloquently about her life under the most straitened circumstances. The portrayal of her burgeoning womanhood oppressed by mindless prejudice is so vivid that the reader feels a sense of personal loss after reading her diary. It also makes us think about the millions of others who met the same fate but for whatever reasons didn’t leave behind a tangible record of their lives.
This new production is unusual in that it covers Anne’s life before, during and after her time in the Secret Annex. The theatre production is all Dutch spoken but from 1st July, foreign visitors will be able to use a tablet for synchronised translation into their language. If the theatre production is worth its salt it will make the audience experience a whole gamut of emotions; from a sense of pride that Anne was an Amsterdammer to a sense of shame that she was taken away and exterminated by fellow human beings.
I went to see the new, purpose-built theatre for myself. It’s in the west of Amsterdam, in former industrial area, de Houthavens. Excavated in 1876, at the same time as the Noordzeecanal, the harbour’s primary function was the transport and storage of construction timber, hence its name, Wood Harbour. It’s earmarked as a new climate-neutral residential area so in the coming years we should see a flowering of human creativity in and around Theater Amsterdam. Perhaps this spirit of rebirth will be the most fitting tribute to Anne’s short life.
Textile portrait of Anne, by Tiny Koppens