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Is Anne too big for reviews? 3 reasons why I find it hard to review Anne

Someone commented on Facebook that it looked a bit odd for a newspaper to hand out stars for a play based on The Diary of Anne Frank. Although I myself shudder to give out stars this early for a Godwin make, surely there is something to The Play and The Review. Indeed, reviews of The Play to The Diary seem superfluous. For how do you review such a play, with such a history? Isn't fuss about layering or no layering, adventurousness or no adventurousness in the direction even a little irreverent? So these are three issues, which led me to consider that maybe it shouldn't be possible at all. Anne review.

What's in it?

1: Could Anne fail as a play?

Of course, newspapers have to answer their reader's question, and indeed that reader asks, "but what was it really like?". So you send a journalist to describe that. Who comes back with a story that actually looks the same in all the paper papers: beautiful piece, stunning and monumental setting, tad dull, but what the heck with such a lead and such a final image. The makers, in short, didn't mess it up. Although, in the eyes of quality newspaper NRC, it is a mortal sin not to add enough layering.

But then?

2: Is it actually about art?

Whether the piece is innovative, exciting, taboo-breaking or special in relation to the rest of the offerings does not matter much. Like other big blockbusters, reviews have hardly any influence on attendance for a play of this size anyway. And this is even an event that is also largely for visitors from abroad. Those American visitors want to know whether there are no bare tits in it and whether justice is done to Anne's story. Well: according to reports, both are the case, so the visitors can come.

Reviewers were not actually needed for this observation. This Anne is mostly news. It might become a different story if in two years the copyright on The Diary expires. Then the souls of that girl from Amsterdam suddenly belong to the public domain and any yokel with a theatre diploma can make off with the work. Musical, cabaret, Nazi versions, anything is then possible. Also bare tits, presumably.

3: Isn't the story too big?

The question remains whether The Diary of Anne Frank can ever become an ordinary part of literature and art. Isn't it already a monument in itself? Can you ever review monuments, especially when that monument is the private diary of a war victim? And can you leave it to the market? To the hands of good and bad artists who will deconstruct it, modify it, maybe even destroy it? And will you then also review that? After all, then it's more about a society, and how it deals with its darkest heritage, than about an artist and his work.

Anne might just be a piece too big, too loaded for reviews.

Or am I seeing this wrong? I look forward to hearing your reactions.

23 thoughts on “Is Anne te groot voor recensies? 3 redenen waarom ik het lastig vind om Anne te recenseren”

  1. Leon van der Sanden

    hello Wijbrand!
    I find the questions slightly odd. The only question you can ask - which precedes your questions - is: if ANNE of itself is such a personal document then is it legitimate to make a play out of it? And if you make a play of it then is it legitimate to fit it into a roaring, commercial circus?

    But once someone takes the liberty of indeed making a play of it, it is precisely the reviewer's duty to give his opinion on this honestly and sincerely! It is his sole right to exist! Especially with a topic like Anne and the holocaust, where emotional manipulation, kitsch, insincerity and commercial ulterior motives often go hand in hand. The reviewer, if he is worth a nod, can look with a little more distance and name where things go right and where wrong. I think Herien Wensink in the NRC did this very well - her criticism focused first and foremost on the fact that the drama of the oppressiveness of people locked in a narrow space was not properly conveyed by impressing with grand theatrical devices. Surely this should indeed be paramount when devising scenery etc, I would say.

    As a theatre-maker myself, I have created/edited both Anne Frank (free after the American version....) and Mulisch's De Aanslag and The Girl with the Red Hair. But also: what I consider to be a successful and honourable adaptation of the (indeed sentimental-kitschy) novel Her Name was Sarah! And in my choices, have permanently felt the dividing line between playing on cheap sentiment and truthfulness. The general public will always succumb to kitsch and sentiment - the task of the reviewer is to keep the public on its toes from a distance and with an analytical view. And not to get carried away in the mud of commercial interests or taboo-like sentiments.

    I haven't seen ANNE yet. Am e.g. curious if those who come to arrest her are only Germans - or if Dutchman Maarten Kuiper was also brought to the stage, who was at her arrest - and who a while later murdered Hannie Schaft with a machine gun. That would perhaps also reveal something about the makers' intentions.

  2. What an interesting thesis!!! This is what ìI think/me wonder: the diary is a monument, yes, that is indeed true. But the play made from it is not, is it? So could a review be written of it, it seems to me. Which makes me wonder if that review should then be written by the usual reviewer. I see 50 to 60 theatre/dance performances a year. I find that I am much more critical than those around me who see maybe 5 a year at most. I was at the premiere of 'Anne' and looking at it with my critical/experienced eye, there are some things I don't like especially in terms of acting. I agree with Herien Wensink and Simon van den Berg et al in many areas. But when I look at it with my heart and soul, I find it incredibly impressive. This performance makes me realise what a special person Anne Frank was. More than all the other plays and films about her I have seen so far, and also more than reading the diary itself. But Wensink and Van den Berg et al are paid for their critical expertise on stage. Maybe that's what bites? Question: who should do it then? Answer: no idea, maybe other artists?

  3. Kees Cornelder

    As long as there are now ancient survivors of Auschwitz-Birkenau and other World War II Nazi death factories, Anne Frank's Secret Annexe can never be considered part of the realm of 'pure literature'. At least not until the 2040s, my estimation.

    The violent death -largely by murder- of over 200,000 Dutch people in the period 1940-1945 simply stands in the way of this. There are 'too many' 2nd generation witnesses walking around besides direct war participants of the time, who are 'dissolving' naturally in time and space in their old age, who know, and have experienced the consequences themselves in the parental family and with other relatives of that once fierce war disaster.
    Those who from that direct ancestry have inherited and carry with them, consciously and unconsciously, the incurred pain and sorrow as an unsolicited legacy.

    For that generation, 'The Secret Annex as a book and as a historical location in Amsterdam and the historical person the late teenager Anne Frank is a certain warmonger, which is not even a bad thing. Because for something, as in this case, to slip through time and space, symbols such as the person Anne Frank, her diary The Secret Annexe AND recently the theatre production Anne are simply of great use.

    I read somewhere on Twitter that that production had been put under an extra-strong magnifying glass by the NRC and its reviewing text had also been presented in an extra-strong way (all over the front page!) so that as a national newspaper (which appeared on publication day with its Amsterdam section, of all places) it could not be 'suspected' of 'operating in such a canal-belt-focused way these days'. The fairly recent move of the NRC editorial staff from down-to-earth Rotterdam to Amsterdam with its famously-famous subcultural canal-belt population also plays into this in the background.

    Reviewing the NRC review again, as well as similar pieces in other magazines and on screen, this analysis does ring true. Alas.
    With the inescapable conclusion that NCR editor-in-chief Vandermeersch has thus offered newspaper readers subjective rubbish, while reviewing journalists is this anyway.

    Shouldn't 'Anne' have been reviewed then? Bullshit this, Of course the NRC should have, however 'just'. As a publicly accessible theatre production for which ticket-buyers-goers have to put down quite a bit of money to be able and allowed to buy into it.

    Now I wouldn't know by God if I would want to go there, because that NRC review - kind of consumer advice, in other words - is simply put 'not free' of subjectivities (see above).

    Is it 'good' or 'bad'? I can't and also won't tell from that.

    Kees stays home for now, so.

  4. The latter in particular is where my doubt stems from, Margaret. I was assistant to Leonard Frank in his direction of Heldenplatz, and that was an example of a play where the ghosts of primo Levi and Eli Wiesel were very much in evidence. But in every way a work of art.

  5. Would you review a piece on Eli Wiesel or Primo Levi with less trepidation? I mean: are the qualms in the subject of Holocaust itself or in the untouchability of Anne as a symbol, with all the merchandising around it?

  6. at 1. - Sure it can be done. Just the orchestrated buz and subject matter gives you that feeling that it couldn't be done. But íevery subject sublimated in art deserves the same review ratio.
    at 2. - totally disagree. The buz makes you feel that this would be more news than art page news. Nonsense. As obtuse as page-wide on the front page of NRC. Relief seeking/orchestration.
    at 3. - Although the holocaust is, in my opinion, the greatest subject imaginable, I fear that time will also/even pass over this subject. ultimately, as a reviewer, you try to do justice to the intention of the artist, the work of art itself, and the reception of the work of art by the audience. If justice has been done to those three parts, and you as a reader also get some context into what specific sub-history this artwork wants to be, then you have succeeded as a reviewer.

  7. I have yet to go and watch it..do find your approach interesting. I think you can review anything, especially Anne, because it's basically a little human story. With a big context though..You know what? I'll reply to you with a review. Heart. greetings, Jaap

  8. It is not so much a putrid piece as an article that seems highly corrupted. If a producer wants to get a piece of the holocaust industry, as a press medium, that's exactly what you send your toughest reviewer for! You only need one(1) reason for that.

    1. We have no shares. And I am not assuming that the creator has a purely commercial objective. I am merely arguing that reviewing on theatrical grounds is a rather unhelpful activity in this case.

Comments are closed.

Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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