“The Diary of Anne Frank” presented by the Central Academy of Drama, China, was a profoundly moving production.
The cultural relations between India and China are rooted in antiquity. Thanks to the Bharat Rang Mahotsav, fine theatrical productions from China can be seen by Indian audiences every year. In fact, these two countries are reservoirs of centuries-old rich and varied theatrical art traditions and both are creatively engaged to synthesise these forms with contemporary techniques and sensibilities. At this year’s BRM, the Central Academy of Drama from the Peoples Republic of China presented “The Diary of Anne Frank” in Chinese at Kamani auditorium this past week. In previous BRMs we have seen classical dramas from China, which were highly stylised and mesmerising with their exquisite loveliness. “The Diary of Anne Frank” is a modern theatrical work which demonstrates the power of realism to explore deeper recess of human agony under Fascism. Despite the language barrier and the cumbersome device of following the English subtitles, the production managed to get the audience involved, almost imperceptibly, subtly projecting the inner turmoil of the characters as they hide from the enemies of the people and of freedom. The director and her cast are not concerned merely with producing outer effects, their main concerns are to create an ambience to explore their talents as actors in the realistic mode and bring to the fore their characters’ intense thoughts.
Set in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in July 1942, “The Diary of Anne Frank”, written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, is based on the diary of a teenaged Jewish girl Anne Frank. She went into hiding with her family and a few others to protect themselves from the atrocities of the Nazis. Hidden inside a house for two years, they remained in an atmosphere of fear and utter privation until 1944, but were then caught and sent to a concentration camp. Because of its severe indictment of Fascism, the play has been performed by amateurs and professional companies all over the world. Based on objective reality capturing the darkest chapter of 20th Century human history, the play has a special intellectual and emotional appeal. It awakens the human conscience to be on guard against the emergence of fascistic forces.
Apart from Anne’s father, mother and sister, there are a dentist and a teenaged boy. These characters live in fear day in, day out. Through a character who dares to bring provisions for them they have a tenuous link with the outside world being devastated by warring camps. Our attention focuses on Anne who keeps on recording her bitter experiences. She dreams of becoming a writer. Despite the repressive and hush-hush atmosphere, she retains some of her girlish activities within the limited space. She quarrels often with a young boy living in the same house. Both finally fall in love, which is expressed in muted tones. The production reveals the strangeness of the human psyche. Despite being victims of a common dreaded enemy, they do not cease to engage in mutual acrimony. Translated into Chinese from the original by Liang Bolong, the play is directed by JI Pei with stage design by TIAN Jun. the director’s subtle and intricate artistry is noteworthy. The offstage sounds and the projection on a wide screen upstage of the march of Nazi soldiers on the street — only their boots producing a deafening sound are seen — reinforce the atmosphere of dread.
The perceptive direction, offstage sound effects, the images projected on the screen, the superb acting and imaginative lighting design are all formed into an artistic whole that will be remembered for its pathos and moving poetry.
The student-cast endowed with impressive stage presence is remarkable for emotional restraint and sensitivity that reflects their deep grounding in acting in the realistic style. Lieu Ningning as Anne Frank creates an unforgettable portrait.