Holly come lately - can Anna match Audrey?

Anna Friel has been cast as the lead in an upcoming stage version of Breakfast at Tiffany's. It's a brave actress who will step into the role immortalised by Audrey Hepburn, says Rhoda Koenig

The audience at the stage version of Breakfast at Tiffany's that opens this September may be expecting a Manhattan romance between a sexy young writer and a waif-like girl in a Givenchy dress who softly sings "Moon River". But, says director Sean Mathias, they are guaranteed only the place and the song. The Johnny Mercer-Henry Mancini tune apart, Samuel Adamson's play, in which Anna Friel will portray Holly Golightly, is based on the Truman Capote novella of 1958 rather than the film of 1961, which starred Audrey Hepburn. Another show that took the same approach, however, and that also cast a TV star in the lead, was the Broadway musical of 1966, which, despite a $1 million advance, never made it to opening night.

In Blake Edwards' movie, Hepburn and George Peppard are two mixed-up kids who romp through a New York photographed like a lovers' playground and kiss while cuddling her nameless cat. Adamson, Mathias says, has conveyed the original story's darkness and melancholy, looking at the material through the lens of the present rather than that of the film, which changed Holly Golightly from gamy to gamine. When Hepburn asks her dates for $50 "for the powder-room", they get a smile in return; Capote's Holly comes across, and gets pregnant. While the movie is set in the year it was made, the novella takes place in wartime, and it's not hard to guess why its male narrator received a draft deferment. There are many references to gay men and women, all of which were suppressed in the film. It would have been startling indeed to hear Hepburn say, as Holly does when a policewoman arrests her, "Get them cotton-pickin' hands off of me, you dreary, drivelling old bull-dyke" or choosing, as her ideal celebrity lover, Greta Garbo (in the movie – an in-joke?– it's Leonard Bernstein).

Despite her language and her occupation, Capote's Holly is, in her way, ladylike and innocent. Her sophistication is that of a precocious child, archly exclaiming, "It's too gruesome!" or "Quel beast!". Waiflike but gallant, unscrupulous yet principled, she spins one fantasy after another, but, as a friend says, "She isn't a phony because she's a real phony. She believes all this crap she believes." Mathias thinks Friel will make a good Holly because "she has lots of style and sex but also a big heart. Also, anyone who comes from outside a big city, as Anna does, knows that, to get on there, you have to put on a mask." There remains, of course, the problem of her taking on a role so identified with a beautiful, beloved star. "You said it," says Mathias. The two will be working to differentiate Friel from Hepburn as much as possible, giving her Holly a rougher vocal quality and a distinctive appearance. Mathias doesn't want to be specific this early, but he has probably noticed that, while Hepburn had long, dark hair, the Holly of the novella had a boyish cut, of "self-induced blonde".

Though many women claimed to be the original Holly, it was Capote himself who was the main model for her as well as for the narrator. Holly's real name (Lulamae) is a near-echo of his mother's (Lillie Mae). Another influence was probably Capote's childhood friend Harper Lee. When Holly says one of the narrator's stories is full of "trembling leaves" and dismisses it with, "Negroes and children: who cares?" she could be sending up her creator or teasing the author of To Kill a Mockingbird.

An important factor in the film's success was its Oscar-winning song, whose vague, wistful lyrics helped soften the dubious aspects of Holly's character. In calling the river "my huckleberry friend", Mercer was of course alluding to the greatest American novel, but one can't help wondering if he also had in mind the fact that one of Capote's previous books, Other Voices, Other Rooms, was referred to in some circles as "the fairy Huck Finn." Using "Moon River" "was the hardest decision I had to make", says Mathias, who feared it would jolt the audience out of Capote's world and into that of the movie. "At first I wasn't going to put it in, but a friend told me, 'If you don't, everyone will say, "Where is it?"'"

The creators of the new stage version are staying well away from anything to do with the notorious musical flop, whose score, by Bob Merrill (Funny Girl), and stars, from hit TV shows (Richard Chamberlain and Mary Tyler Moore), did not save it from disaster. By the time it staggered into New York after two extra months out of town, the show had gone through three librettists, including Edward Albee, and two directors. Some of the audience were leaving soon after the curtain rose, appalled by the language of America's TV sweetheart (Mathias reckons people would now be more likely to be put off by a tart whose vocabulary was squeaky-clean); others reached for their coats when the musical turned out to be four hours long. Closing the show after four previews, its producer, David Merrick, announced that he did not wish to "subject the drama critics and the public to an excruciating, boring evening".

The producer of this version may not be as flamboyant as Merrick, but it's certainly unusual. Breakfast at Tiffany's is being "sponsored", the first time such an arrangement has been made for a West End show, by the makers of Chambord raspberry liqueur, which will have branded bars in the theatre and its name above the title. There will also be a Holly Golightly cocktail (Holly would be revolted: she drank martinis), but Mathias emphasises, rather testily, that Friel will at no time praise the product or offer it to friends.

At the moment, he has other matters on his mind, notably how to handle the trickiest member of the cast to make sure he will not upstage his fellow actors. Of course, if he gets fed up, he can always send Cat back to his box.

'Breakfast at Tiffany's', Theatre Royal Haymarket, London SW1 (0845 481 1870) opens 9 September

Friel's finest moments

Brookside (1993-95)

Anna Friel's big break came when she joined the cast in the long-running Merseyside soap opera 'Brookside'. As Beth Jordache, she memorably sparked off huge controversy with a lesbian screen kiss, which made soap history and cemented her fame (right). She eventually won the 1995 National Television Award for the role.

Closer (1999)

In her Broadway debut, Friel gave a stand-out performance as the mysterious minx, Alice, in the New York transfer of Patrick Marber's scintillating anti-romance 'Closer'. The production, also starring Rupert Graves, Natasha Richardson and Ciaran Hinds, was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play.

Lulu (2001)

Friel made her London stage début in Frank Wedekind's 'Lulu', where she starred as the nubile, nymphomaniac heroine. Jonathan Kent's well-received Almeida production later transferred to the West End and then to Broadway.

Pushing Daisies (2007-09)

Friel's career was revitalised when she beat off American competition to land the lead in this kooky afterlife fairytale drama on ABC (above). Her performance as Charlotte "Chuck" Charles, brought back to life by her childhood sweetheart, Ned (Lee Pace) won her a Golden Globe nomination, emulating the success of other British faces in LA – Hugh Laurie in 'House', Dominic West in 'The Wire' and Joely Richardson in 'Nip/Tuck'.

Land of the Lost (2009)

In another major coup for the British actress, she will star as the sidekick to Will Ferrell, who plays a time-travelling, "disgraced palaeontologist" in his latest blockbusting adventure. Released in America this week (and next month in the UK), the film should confirm Friel, along with her partner 'Harry Potter' stalwart David Thewlis, as major players in both British and American acting circles.

- Robert Matthews

Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West found himself at the centre of a critical storm over the weekend after he apparently claimed to be “the next Mandela” during a radio interview
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig and Rory Kinnear film Spectre in London
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?