Review: Souvenir D’anne Frank, New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

Souvenir D’anne Frank, by Elizabeth Mansfield devised from The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank, New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, March 22 2012

The Prologue of Ensemble’s new theatrical work, Souvenir D’Anne Frank, plunges us into 1945 when atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Amid the explosions a Japanese girl (Azusa Ono) tells of a Belgian rose grower who created a bloom named for Anne Frank who died of typhus in Bergen-Belsen and whose teenage diary was published by her father Otto in 1947. Both diary and rose later reached Japan where a chord of common humanity between East and West was struck. The link is a sympathetic longing for peace among ‘ordinary people’ but most of all by a desire that such horrors be remembered so that they should never be repeated.

Ono is joined by composer and pianist Colin Decio, cellist Philip Handy and violinist Catalin Chelaru, who provide the musical accompaniment, notable for its often strident and piercing discordancy reflecting the worst excesses of both Japanese and European war experiences.

The diary is explored by the Japanese girl, helped by Elizabeth Mansfield, using a mix of European and Japanese theatre forms, song, haiku poetry, soundscape and video imagery: all combine within a musical frame to tell the Franks’ story. Otto alone returns to Amsterdam from the concentration camp to face the loss of his family, poignantly depicted by Ono and Mansfield.

The wartime parallels between Europe and Japan were almost incidental to the drama, since it was a plea for peace, symbolized by the rose that was sent to Japan to be planted by children in memory of Anne. The contrasting gentleness with which the audience is led through wartime terrors underscored the peace message on a darkened stage strewn with white roses. Judgement as to whether or not similar horrors can be avoided in the future is left for the audience to ponder.

Carol Twinch