First Night: Breakfast at Tiffany's, Theatre Royal Haymarket, London
A diamond in need of polishing
Wednesday 30 September 2009
It is a brave man who takes on Breakfast at Tiffany's – Truman Capote's jewel of a tale and later much-loved movie which cemented Audrey Hepburn as the epitome of Hollywood golden-age glamour – and rejigs it for the stage. Edward Albee tried it in 1966, drafted in to rewrite the book for a woeful Bob Merrill musical starring Mary Tyler Moore. It closed after only four performances.
And it is a peculiarly heavy-handed man who takes this classic novella – at a mere 91 pages, as elegant and slim as Miss Golightly herself – and turns it into a gruelling two-and-three-quarter hour theatrical marathon.
The playwright Samuel Adamson and director Sean Mathias have conspired to reimagine the Manhattan adventures of the eternally flighty Holly Golightly – "top banana in the shock department", wild child turned child bride turned runaway bride, Hollywood starlet manqué, girl about town and, dare one say, lady of the night, drug smuggler and gangster's moll – and render them, well, rather dull.
It's not Anna Friel's fault. As our fly-by-night heroine, the elfin actress best known for her roles in Brookside and the US rom-com drama Pushing Daisies is, in Holly's own assessment, "infectious". Gorgeously gamine and wrapped, like a treat from Tiffany's, in an array of ever more extravagantly bowed cocktail dresses, she's a bewitching stage presence, at once perilously provocative and child-like. The problem is the play. Keen to distance it from Blake Edwards' rather saccharine screen romance – there's no happy ending on Moon River here – Adamson has returned to Capote's original. This Holly is manipulative, petulant, morally dodgy and paradoxically enchanting: she's a phoney, we're told, but at least she's a real phoney.
The action, though, runs as little more than a series of flimsy vignettes – Holly gazing moonily through Tiffany's plate glass window; Holly crooning prettily with her guitar on the fire escape of her brownstone; Holly hoofing about and swilling martinis at a cocktail party full of dubious high society types; and Holly stripping off, just about as often as the story allows it. Her fellow denizens of New York are hastily drawn. James Dreyfus gives it his all as cigar-chomping movie mogul O J Berman and John Ramm endows Doc Golightly with a quiet dignity but the rest are caricatures including Madame Spanella, the soprano in the flat above who inexplicably, and unforgivably, is made to mime her arias.
Most problematic is William Parsons who has been transposed from Capote's finely nuanced, anonymous narrator into a full-blown leading man. Though the fresh-faced Joseph Cross is credible as the simple boy from Alabama, he's too drippy and clownish for Holly ever to entertain the idea of true romance.
In William's narration and elsewhere, Mathias has injected an unwelcome note of crude farce into proceedings, which combine with a rather clunky Manhattan skyline of a set to make this classiest of tales look rather cheap. As all of the ends are diligently and interminably tied up, this is a production, which unlike the divinely restless Holly Golightly, rather outstays its welcome.
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