Review of BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

Like Shakespeare’s Cleopatra, though only more so, Truman Capote’s most endearing creation, Holly Golightly, the heroine of his 1958 novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s, exists most vividly in the mind’s eye. Endow her with flesh and blood and the bloom soon evaporates.

In Blake Edwards’s 1961 screen version, even the captivating Audrey Hepburn, who came as close as was humanly possible to recreating the essence of Holly, was unable to satisfy everyone’s expectations.

An adult, yet with a childlike irresponsibility, Holly is naive as well as sophisticated. Her heart is definitely in the right place and she wouldn’t harm a fly, but at the same time she is oblivious of the hurt and destruction her selfishness can bring to others. She never thinks about the consequences of her actions, yet she is abundantly capable of warmth and tenderness. She can both infuriate and enchant, annoy and delight. She is contradictory and contrary, yet totally, absolutely lovable. Has there ever been a more elusive yet enchanting creature?

To ask an actress to capture all of Holly’s maddening yet delightful qualities – as well as her beauty – is something of a tall order. Offered a chance to take it on, Anna Friel, in what should have been a career-making opportunity, certainly provides the looks.

But alas, not much else. She does her best and towards the very end even manages a smidgen of vulnerability.

Ultimately, though, the task is beyond her and, consequently, there’s a cavernous gap at the centre of Samuel Adamson’s adaptation of Capote’s novella.

Nor is the situation helped by Anthony Ward’s set (two revolving fireescapes on either side of the stage plus some nasty cut-outs of the Manhattan skyline) which is of such singular ugliness it does nothing to conjure the exotic glamour and excitement of New York in the early forties and late fifties.

As William Parsons, the sexually ambivalent would-be author and narrator who lives in the same brownstone apartment as Holly (and who is unrequitedly in thrall of her), American actor Joseph Cross – looking like a young Tim Robbins – doesn’t make much of an impression either. But then none of the cast, with the exceptions of Dermot Crowley’s barman Joe Bell and John Ramm as Holly’s forgotten husband Doc, convinces. Strange this, considering that one whole page of the programme is devoted to the four (count ’em) casting directors used on the production. Go figure, as they say.

Though pretty faithful to the novella, playwright Adamson does take certain liberties with some of the supporting players, most noticeably Madame Spanella (Suzanne Bertish), a wannabee opera singer. In the book she’s the moral guardian of the piece, anxious to have Holly, the immoral party-girl, evicted. Yet as tweaked by Adamson, she thinks nothing of seducing young men by inviting them to her apartment for ‘filet mignon’ and to ‘listen to my cadenza’. Which turns her into something of a hypocrite. And a comic caricature.

Director Sean Mathias is in better control of the play’s more intimate moments than the clunky crowd-scenes, but he should have eliminated the silly horse-riding and kite-flying sequences.

Though this adaptation is closer to Capote’s original text than the film, watching it is like breakfasting at a greasy spoon rather than anything associated with Tiffany’s.

Another pointless attempt to improve on a classic.

CLIVE HIRSCHHORN. Courtesy of This Is London.

Book tickets to Breakfast at Tiffany’s at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in London

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