Breakfast at Tiffany's

  • Our critic's rating:
    Wednesday, September 30, 2009
    Review by:
    Chloe Preece

    I wanted to like it. Really I did. But unfortunately it never quite delivered. A stage adaptation of Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's was always going to be a risky move. The show is meant to be a return to the spirit of Capote's story rather than the celebrated film in which Audrey Hepburn captured the hearts of millions as happy-go-lucky Holly Golightly. In the programme, director Sean Mathias hopes that fans of the film will forget their preconceptions and "within the first five minutes they will be engaging with the story that they see on stage". Unfortunately he makes this impossible and the final product has none of the bitterness of the original nor the charm and romance of the film. And having a blonde (as per Capote) rather than brunette (the delightful Hepburn version) Holly is hardly enough to engage us and end all comparisons with the screen classic.

    The two leads Anna Friel and Joseph Cross put up an admirable effort but fall just short. Cross as the naive, doting Southern writer William Parsons (or Fred as Holly insists calling him) was rather shouty towards the beginning although to his credit he did grow into the role. Friel although graceful and sufficiently charming as the extraordinary Holly Golightly - wild child child bride Hollywood starlet girl about town criminal and gangster's moll - seemed to rush her lines. They both appeared to need more rehearsal time and the romance was never quite believable. In their defence they didn't have much to work with. Samuel Adamson who wrote the adaptation and director Mathias are entirely to blame here. The pace is excessively hasty there is constant chop and change from scene to scene, often leaving the audience confused as to where and when we are exactly supposed to be. Despite the fast pace somehow a short (at a mere 90 pages) novella was turned into a tiresomely long production at over two hours. I caught several members of the audience looking at their watches, never a good sign.

    Some scenes were positively cringe worthy, most notably one where William and Holly were horse riding. This was one of those 'what could they possibly have been thinking?' moments. The audience was squirming and the actors seemed none too comfortable either. The party scene was also a bit of a letdown, neither outrageous nor wild, merely ridiculous with a parade of models/actresses all obviously played by one person and a remarkably (and slightly terrifyingly) tall Gwendoline Christie as Holly's society-friend. Madame Spanella, the rather annoying neighbour was an unwelcome presence throughout and her opera singing - or in this case lip synching - was nothing short of horrendous. Thankfully Mr Yunioshi was slightly less embarrassing to watch than the raging Mickey Rooney of the film, however the handsome Nicholas Goh had about as much stage presence as a packet of crisps. As for the cat with no name, he has the eyes of a "homicidal pirate" William tells us. We'll just have to take his word for it because while extremely obedient, he looks like he's on strong tranquilisers and may as well have been stuffed. On a more positive note, Dermot Crowley gave a solid performance as the Holly-obsessed bartender and James Dreyfus as Hollywood agent O J Berman brought some much needed energy to the stage (though he was sadly underused and absent from most of the second half).

    Friel's costumes were beguiling, an array of chic yet spectacular cocktail dresses. It's rather a shame she didn't spend much time in them. While the set started off with understated class, a Tiffany's blue frame through which we saw a rainy New York street, lightning-fast it all became rather clunky and cheap. Designer Anthony Ward made the centre-piece two bulky fire-escape style staircases, which for some peculiar reason he decided would be best painted white. Combined with a cheesy Manhattan skyline and cloudy sky, the set did nothing to elevate the production. Although set in the 1940's something about the whole production was off and it was just a sort of mish-mash of epoques, genres and tones.

    In the final scene, the pace finally slows down enough for the leads to create some emotional charge. However, it's a case of too little too late. While the ending is not the Hollywood version, the audience has had so little time to explore the characters in any depth due to the constant rushing around that Holly's decision to go to Brazil is puzzling. Although adorable, Friel is not allowed to be the wild thing which Capote created, a creature that can neither find a home nor be fully free. She's a phoney alright but doesn't quite sell us on being a real phoney. The production left me feeling rather underwhelmed and with the conviction that some things are better left untouched.


    "Although a good deal of effort has gone into the production, what we see is the reduction of Capote's small masterpiece to a fragmented play about an eccentric waif."
    Michael Billington for The Guardian

    "A cracking night. Samuel Adamson’s new stage adaptation is scrupulously faithful to the original story while adding emotional depth...Anna Friel gives a performance as Golightly that will capture all but the hardest hearts."
    Charles Spencer for Daily Telegraph

    "A gruelling two-and-three-quarter hour theatrical marathon...this is a production, which unlike the divinely restless Holly Golightly, rather outstays its welcome."
    Alice Jones for The Independent

    "[Anna] Friel has her moments...But she doesn’t have the capricious, mercurial, emotionally dangerous quality Holly needs and so isn’t the convincing spokesperson for sexual liberation and tolerance she might be...An evening that never quite takes off."
    Benedict Nightingale for The Times

    "Anna Friel is disconcertingly adorable as Holly Golightly."
    Quentin Letts for The Daily Mail

    "Very difficult to care for any of the characters, let alone empathise with them."
    Paul Vale for The Stage

    "Breakfast at Tiffany’s is froth with a small shot of naughtiness in it — a cappuccino of a play, stylish perhaps but not nourishing."
    Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard

    External links to full reviews from popular press
    The Independent - The Guardian - The Times - Daily Telegraph

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