site search by freefind advanced

 Connecting professional and amateur theatre in Newbury, West Berkshire and beyond

Newbury Youth Theatre - Dear Kitty

26th to 27th July 2001 at Newbury Corn Exchange and 12th to 19th August at the Edinburgh Fringe.

About the play

Dear Kitty is an adaptation of the diary of Anne Frank. With specially written music and lyrics, it is about the courage and stamina of the Jewish people hidden in the attic in Amsterdam, and the people hiding them. 

This was the review of the Corn Exchange production.

Tangible feeling of terror

'DEAR KITTY', performed by Newbury Youth Theatre, at The Corn Exchange, on Thursday, July 26 and Friday, July 27

What a challenge - a play devised from Anne Frank's famous diary. Having seen Newbury Youth Theatre perform before, I was expecting something good.

The set was effective, with that familiar, haunting picture of a smiling Anne bordering the platform, and the action was interspersed with chilling war footage. The concept had provoked thoughts about genocide throughout the world, and the opening scene, with the performers carrying candles and describing events in Rwanda, Kosovo and Germany, was very powerful.

The effect was somewhat diluted, unfortunately, during the first song, which was unimaginatively staged, with the youngsters kneeling down and standing up again, several times, and that initial disappointment continued intermittently throughout the play.

There were some very good scenes, notably the Jews fleeing to Holland on the train. The feeling of confined space in the secret annexe was tangible, as was the terror when they thought they had been discovered.

Charlie Johnson grew in stature and confidence as Anne, with real stage presence and a potentially great singing voice. Sam Hall was a sympathetic, understated Miep, and Matt Tait was an intimidating Hitler Youth, making that evil propaganda sound very plausible and attractive.

However, in some scenes, there was no sense of energy or focus. Too many of the performers were looking around waiting for the next line to come, and even grinning at the audience, and some of the other Hitler youths slouched about in a very indisciplined way, detracting from the impact of their scenes. At times, the diction was so poor we couldn't understand what they were saying. Anne and Peter's relationship seemed to have developed from nowhere, but suddenly they were sealing it with a kiss! And there was little family feeling between the parents and children.

The ending was sensitively handled, with the sad fate of each character narrated as they left the stage, although I wondered if the opening scene might have worked better as an epilogue. The talent is there, but the production could do with a little judicious tweaking before they perform at Edinburgh this month.


Here is the Edinburgh review.

Moving experience

'DEAR KITTY', Newbury Youth Theatre, at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, until Saturday, August 18

Newbury Youth Theatre can he justly proud of their very moving production at the Quaker Meeting House. I saw it Last Saturday evening, on their final performance.

There were no stars, just a team of young people working well together under the direction of Robin Strapp, who devised this musical drama.

One might think that music (by James Holmes, lyrics by Sue Peckham) was out of place in such a drama, but the songs did not overwhelm and were in keeping with the action. Several of the cast had chest infections and the singing was not always strong, but slick musical numbers would have jarred.

The set consisted of a narrow platform surrounded by black curtains, a red Nazi flag, and a white sheet on to which was projected contemporary film footage of the holocaust which was taking place while the Frank family and their friends were in hiding. Most of the action took place on the floor in front of the platform.

The play began with each member of the cast bringing on a lily and announcing modern day atrocities - Ireland, Palestine, Bosnia, Rwanda, and the murders of James Bulger and Sarah Payne - reminding their audience that there is still intolerance and genocide in today's world.

The action switched to Anne's birthday and the gift of her diary, the 'Kitty' of the title. Hers was a normal childhood until repressive restrictions and curfews began and yellow star badges were distributed to the Jews.

The Frank family went into hiding when Anne's 16-year-old sister Margot was "called up", a euphemism for being taken to a concentration camp. With them went the Van Daan family and later Mr Dussell, a Gentile dentist who treated Jewish patients.

Making no noise while the offices below were occupied, the claustrophobia inevitably led to quarrels, and lively Anne was in trouble with everyone.

Included was a gentle 'love' scene between Anne and Peter Van Daan, which her father cut out when the diary was first published.

When the allied invasion began they anticipated liberation, only to be betrayed and transported to concentration camps, where they all perished, with the exception of Mr Frank who remarried and died in 1988.

The play highlighted the courage of the friends who supplied their needs, especially Miep, who is still alive and who wrote an open letter to Sam Hall, who played her character. She advised "Play my role in a relaxed way... cheerful... don't show the tension, which we helpers had as well".

When the cast left the stage, the audience was left with a moving symbol - superimposed on photographs of Anne which covered the floor - an illuminated Star of David, in the centre of which lay 'Kitty'.


And this was the NWN comment.

NYT get Edinburgh streetwise

There was a buzz of excitement in the train when they announced "16 minutes to Edinburgh". Luggage was collected, coats put on, but the broad Scottish accent had actually said 60 minutes. It had been a long journey for the members of Newbury Youth Theatre, making their fifth visit to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with their musical play about Anne Frank. Anita Hatch used this experience to help her develop her character in the play: "eight hours in a confined space was really awful - I can't imagine how the occupants in the attic managed for two years." They write from the Fringe:

Rehearsals have been long and tiring, finishing at 10pm on Saturday and starting again on Sunday morning at 8am. Then off to sell the show at Fringe Sunday - a gigantic celebration on the meadows. We were all amazed at the thousands of people enjoying the carnival atmosphere.

Each day the company has to publicise the show on the hectic High Street Sitting in large trunks the company created still images from the play. Ski Lynskey spent the entire hour frozen still. Afterwards he said: "I was amazed at how many people stopped and took photographs". One couple told James McManus: "We saw your 'Peace Children' last year and we will be definitely coming to see Dear Kitty". An American family thought the street performance was "truly awesome, we've never seen anything like this on the Fringe".

Staying at university flats, the company live and work together and this has cemented many relationships Sam Hall felt that "having to buy food and cook for ourselves has made me grow up. I now realise how much my mum does for me. I think I need ironing lessons".

Thursday brought A-level results and there was a truly great feeling at the achievements, so the celebrations began. Charlie Johnson was thrilled with her grades and thinks that "Edinburgh is a fabulous city there is so much to see and the castle is amazing. I can't wait to come back again".

Rachel Haynes was impressed by the audience on opening night: "seeing a near-capacity audience was a real buzz, I'm very proud to be a member of the company". There have been visitors from Toronto, two people are coming up to see the show from Newcastle and Friday's show has almost sold out.

There has been tremendous positive feedback from the audiences and we were all moved by a letter left for us after the first performance from Keren and Lyzik. "We are a married couple from Israel. We were very excited from the show. The beginning was very touching to our feelings considering the political situation these days. The acting was so real and you guys were just perfect. We loved it We just wanted to emphasise that for a Jewish Israeli to see something like this with all the awareness and truth is inspiring."

'Dear Kitty' has taught us much and we will return to Newbury with some incredible memories, summed up by Tanya Morgan "having had the Edinburgh experience I now feel much more confident".