Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Breakfast at Tiffany's, Theatre Royal Haymarket

If people turn up to the Theatre Royal expecting to see Anna Friel give a reprise of Audrey Hepburn's performance in Blake Edwards' 1961 film, they're in for a shock.

The play goes right back to Truman Capote's original novella rather than the film, which Capote described in later life as "a mawkish valentine to New York City...thin and pretty, whereas it should have been rich and ugly".

Indeed, the Capote estate, which is fiercely protective of the writer's reputation, only authorised the production on the understanding that it'd be a new dramatisation rather than an adaptation of the film.

However, from a dramatist's point of view, the novella throws up a big problem. As the narrator of the book is an anonymous and detached observer, Adamson needed to create a more three-dimensional character to lead us through the story and take us into Holly Golightly's world.

Successful novelist William Parsons (played by young American actor Joseph Cross) returns to NYC in 1957, 14 years after arriving in the city as a naive young writer. As he reminisces, he recalls becoming captivated by the beautful neighbour who seemed to guide effortlessly though the city's social whirl (which carries on without a care while the world war rages on).

However, her uninhibited approach to life led to the failure of their friendship, until she was arrested for aiding and abetting a gangster and needed William's help to get out of the country. In hindsight, years after seeing Holly for the final time, Parsons realises how their relationship helped him to 'find himself' in his new life.

It's probably over-stating it a bit, but there are shades of Citizen Kane about the structure of the play; as we are hit with revelations about Holly's past from a variety of sources, the layers of her character and identity are peeled away. It also strikes the right note about attempting to reinvent yourself when you move to a big city with dizzying and almost infinite possibilities.

There's quite a bit of humour and edge to the production, which isn't coy about Holly's $50 "trips to the men's room". There were also a few sharp intakes of breath at some full frontal nudity, and I'm pretty sure the film never depicted Audrey Hepburn giving Hannibal Smith a handjob in the bath.

However, not all the theatricality works. The profusion of short scenes and location changes means there's a distracting parade of period-dressed stagehands lugging furniture around. The main part of the set, two large NYC fire escape staircases, sometimes take a little while to get in position and hold up the pace.

I love Anna Friel's TV work, but I don't think she's got sufficient presence to convince on stage as a girl it's impossible not to fall in love with. The rest of the cast are entertaining, though - James Dreyful slightly steals the show as fast-talking showbiz agent OJ Berman.

It's not the best West End play I've ever seen, and I'm guessing the critics won't be kind. However, even with its faults, it'd be a shame if this got written off as just another bit of fluffy tourist-bait featuring a TV star.

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