Anne Frank Play – 1956 Berlin Performance, Kenneth Tynan on

And at the Schlosspark, last Monday, I survived the most dramatic emotional experience the theatre has ever given me. It had little to do with art, for the play was not a great one, yet its effect, in Berlin, at that moment of history, transcended anything that art has yet learned to achieve. It invaded the privacy of the whole audience: I tried hard to stay detached, but the general catharsis engulfed me. Like all great theatrical occasions, this was not only a theatrical occasion: it involved the world outside. The first page of the programme prepared one: a short, stark essay on collective guilt. Turn over for the title: The Diary of Anne Frank, directed by Boleslaw Barlach. It is not a vengeful dramatisation. Quietly, often gaily, it re-creates the daily life of eight Jews who hid for two years in an Amsterdam attic before the Gestapo broke in. Otto Frank was the sole survivor: Anne was killed in Belsen.

When I saw the play in New York it vaguely perturbed me: there seemed no need to do it: it smacked of exploitation. The Berlin actors (especially Johanna von Koczian and Walter Franck) were better on the whole and devouter than the Americans, but I do not think that was why the play seemed so much more urgent and necessary on Monday night. After the interval the man in front of me put his head in his hands and did not afterwards look at the stage. He was not, I believe, Jewish. It was not until the end that one fully appreciated Barlog’s wisdom and valour in using an entirely non-Jewish cast. Having read the last lines of the diary, which affirm, movingly and irrationally, Anne Frank’s unshattered trust in human goodness, Otto Frank closes the book and says, very slowly: ‘She puts me to shame.’

Thus the play ended. The houselights went up on an audience that sat drained and ashen, some staring straight ahead, others staring at the ground, for a full half-minute. Then, as if awakening from a nightmare, they rose and filed out in total silence, not looking at each other, avoiding even the customary blinks of recognition with which friend greets friend. There was no applause, and there were no curtain-calls.

All of this, I am well aware, is not drama criticism. In the shadow of an event so desperate and traumatic, criticism would be an irrelevance. I can only record an emotion that I felt, would not have missed, and pray never to feel again.

Berlin Postscript
Observer, 7 October 1956

From:
Theatre Writings
Kenneth Tynan