THEATRE Dreams of Anne Frank Stables Antique Market, London

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The Independent Culture
Before you go into this marquee production of Bernard Kops's play, you can visit a neighbouring tent where the Anne Frank Educational Trust has mounted an exhibition designed to raise young people's awareness about the horrors of racism past and present. It takes you through the specific history of the Frank family and the broader political context (there's a plan of the Amsterdam attic annexe where the Franks and four neighbours hid from July 1942 to their betrayal and arrest in August 1944), and it draws on material from today. There's even a sobering section on the number of schoolchildren who have been driven to suicide by systematic bullying - their only crime that of being perceived to be different.

After the orderliness and objectivity of the exhibition, it comes as a jolt to be plunged into the internalised world of Dreams of Anne Frank - also written with young people in mind - which presents life in the attic through Anne's eyes. This is no documentary record but a subjective, sometimes comically expressionist account of the anxieties and frustrations of clandestine confinement. The cast of Rachel Lasserson's traverse production have developed eloquent ensemble mime skills through which they physicalise, say, the tension between the Franks and the rather vulgar Van Daans and turn daily domestic detail into a vision of heightened ritual monotony - "a daze of days", as Nicky Marks's likeably forthright Anne puts it.

We are presented with a fanciful dramatic world where Churchill can have a supportive chat with Anne over the wireless, where the women can suddenly turn into the Andrews Sisters, and where Anne and the attractively gauche, love-stricken boy lodger Peter (Max Hogden) can break into a song-and- dance routine about what they'll do "When the War is Over". There are drawbacks, though, to focusing so exclusively on the fugitives. For example, we never see - and, as far as I can recall, only once hear mention of - the extraordinarily brave Dutch friends who would have faced death if caught helping the hideaways. How easy to argue yourself out of continuing on such a courageous course. A young audience would be edified by encountering people who had resisted that option.

Also, since so much of ordinary life is presented in fantastical form, there's arguably not enough reality for Anne's deepest dreams, signalled by a switch to harsh green and purple lighting, to play against. In these sequences, fairytale is invaded by dark forebodings - as when the idea of wanting to grow up and yet dreading the future is symbolised in the human gingerbread house which closes round Anne, while the witch (in the shape of Mrs Van Daan) urges her to eat: "This oven solves everything... eat! eat! There's lots of Jews waiting to be admitted."

Stables Antique Market in Camden, where the marquee has been raised, is next to a railway track and from time to time, you hear long goods- trains clanking by. The sound is like a desolating premonition of the fate of Anne and her family who, at the end, don camp uniform and file up to form a heap of corpses. Her father Otto (played with grave dignity by Clive Bennett) was the sole survivor and it's his final words which strike me as the most moving in the play. Yes, the diary is a marvellous act of witness and of warning, but "I would gladly swap it, throw it away, or have it unwritten if only I could have Anne again, living".

To 16 Aug. Booking: 0171-344 4444

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