August 08, 2020
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Frank Confessions

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Frank Confessions
In all my years of theatre-going I have not witnessed the kind of ovation that followed the performance of The Spirit of Anne Frank at its opening night in Delhi. The audience was on its feet and wouldn’t let the actors get off the stage. The play had a cast that producers can only dream of: Zohra Sehgal, now 90 years old, Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das. They were accompanied on the stage by the lesser-known Anastacia Flewin and Mandakini Goswami who matched the performances of their seniors. Mandakini Goswami plays the role of Purbani, the least communicative of the five passengers on a train heading for Baroda. At one point she lets out a heart-breaking wail that had many in the audience in tears.

The play is sponsored by the Netherlands embassy which is celebrating 400 years of Dutch presence in India. They landed in Surat before the Brits. Anne Frank was a 13-year-old Dutch girl of Jewish descent who was taken by train by the Nazis to die in a concentration camp. Does The Spirit of Anne Frank have echoes of Godhra? You bet. It will be performed in Ahmedabad later this month. Amdavadis have limited experience with the English language but even they will get the message. The Gujarat government is not happy that the play is coming its way but it so happens that the Netherlands is the largest bilateral aid donor to the state.

The 90-minute play is done without interruption on a single train set. At the cast party afterwards, I suggested to the British High Commissioner that it should travel to the Edinburgh festival. I hope he follows it up. For the record, The Spirit of Anne Frank is directed flawlessly by Roysten Abel.

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