Dreams of Anne Frank by Bernard Kops
This month sees the first production by the newly formed offshoot of the Hampstead Players, the Hampstead Players Youth Theatre. The group, for 11-18 year olds, will be performing Dreams of Anne Frank, a play by Bernard Kops.
The HPYT grew out of the enthusiasm of the younger cast-members of the Hampstead Players' last production, The Crucible. The play saw strong friendships develop between the girls in the cast, and once the final performance was over, their thoughts turned to what they could next perform together. The Friends of the Drama suggested that a 'youth' section of the group be formed, and offered to support a full production in the Crypt Room, the unlikely venue that has seen some of the most exciting performances by the Hampstead Players in recent years, including Scapin, Oedipus, and last year's Hamlet.
Since the beginning of February we have been rehearsing Dreams of Anne Frank, a fascinating play for young people written ten years ago, and first performed at the Polka Theatre for Children. The play tells the famous story of how two Jewish families hid from the Nazis for two years in a cramped Amsterdam attic, and also explores the fantasy world the adolescent Anne Frank created to escape her incarceration. We know that Anne had a vivid imagination, and Kops uses this element of her character to convey to us the frustrations, tensions and hopes that were part of her time in the Secret Annexe. We see things that Anne was fond of distorted in her imagination to frightening nightmares, often as a foretelling of the future. One reviewer wrote of the original production:
"Anne Frank's story is one of tremendous bravery in great adversity, of a life full of promise snuffed out in a brutal and appalling way. It is a difficult subject for a children's play to tackle, but writer Bernard Kops makes a success of it by blending Anne's imagination with the harsh reality around her, to create a musical play that celebrates Anne Frank's vitality, while at the same time reminding us of the evils of the Nazi dogma that led to Anne's death and that of millions like her "
John Risebero April 2002
Review from the Magazine of the Parish Church St. John-at-Hampstead
No question but that John Risebero - with the help of his talented young cast, and those who produced sound, set, lighting and costume - created magic in the Crypt Room last night. It was a dark magic inevitably, since the core of Bernard Kops' haunting play is the savagery of the holocaust, personified by the figure of the child, Anne Frank, who has become as it were an icon for the victims of that time. With the members of her Jewish family and their companions, she observes and records the nervous fragility of those months in an attic in wartime Amsterdam.
The Crypt Room was skilfully transfigured into this confined space, with the Nazi threat constantly encroaching from outside. It was remarkable how the members of the newly-formed company conveyed the sensations of mixed courage and fear, defiance and gaiety, never letting us forget the odds that mounted against them. Naomi Paine gave us a true and touching figure as Anne, a sharp, funny and tragic child, using her lively imagination to defy the menace from outside. It was remarkably too how other young members of the cast - Georgina Cox and Raoul Wootliff, were able to slip easily into the guise of parents - as were the Van Daans of Emily Paine and Samuel Winston. Each of these came over as strong individuals, as did both Liz and Anna Rawlings playing Anne's sister; Benjie Grunberger as the young Peter [who poignantly dances with Anne to the tune of 'When the War is Over'] and Isaac Hogarth as a strangely sinister dentist. I was impressed by the way all these responded to each other, as if they were all in fact closeted together in the threatened hiding-place.
Indeed the whole production had a wonderful quality of seamlessness, speaking of tireless work in rehearsal. Movement and music, fantasy and truth, grouping and song - all blended perfectly together. Of many memorable moments, I particularly recall the 'wedding' under the raised table-cloth, and of course the smoke-laden journey bound for Auschwitz, and the last exit when each of the company is revealed in the chill uniform of the concentration camp, and with unnerving dignity walks away from us. It was perhaps particularly poignant for those of us who were young in that now-distant war [albeit in an unoccupied country] to see those times portrayed with such sensitivity by the young members of the cast.
The Hampstead Players Youth Theatre have made a splendid start; they will go on to do more. But their start will be remembered.
Diana Raymond April 2002