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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Breakfast at Tiffany's
Haymarket Theatre Autumn-Winter 2009

For this new stage version adapter Samuel Adamson has gone back to Truman Capote's story, bypassing the softened and romanticised Hollywood film. There's no soppy happy ending, and no disguising the fact that, while Holly Golightly might not actually charge for her sexual favours, she chooses for her gentleman friends those who will be free with their gifts and money.

But what Adamson and director Sean Mathias have somehow lost sight of is that Holly is meant to be unique and wonderful in ways that make moral questions irrelevant. And despite the undeniably lovely-to-look-at presence of Anna Friel, the play never for a minute makes us believe that, and therefore has no real reason for being.

Dressed in lovely 1940s clothes and wigged to look like a young Kathleen Turner, Friel carries no sense of Turner's dangerous sexuality, not even in a brief nude scene, and no equivalent of Audrey Hepburn's mystery or inaccessibility either. Friel plays Holly as if she were a generic minor character in some other play, not the focal point of this one.

And when everybody around her keeps talking about how special Holly is, and the entire premise of the story is her unique and haunting quality, we cannot escape the sense of a gaping hole at the centre of the play.

That this is the fault of the director more than the actress is evidenced by the fine work Friel has done elsewhere - you may be aware of the charm and sexual energy she brought to the TV series Pushing Daisies - and by the fact that she is not alone in bringing so little reality and stage presence to her role.

The part of the narrating neighbour half in love with the exotic Holly isn't given much of a personality in Capote's story, and Adamson has had to flesh out the naive country boy come to New York to be a writer. But he doesn't give actor Joseph Cross much more than that brief description and a pointlessly ambiguous sexuality (He's probably straight but so shy he might as well be asexual) to work with, and the actor and director have not found any more to him than that.

Cross is almost as invisible onstage as the narrator is in the story, and you will not believe his fascination for Holly any more than you see anything in her to be fascinated by. And while Friel manages the kind of anodyne accent a Texas girl trying to hide her roots might adopt, Cross's accent comes and goes as he remembers it, never getting within 500 miles of the Alabama that's supposed to be where he's from.

Except for a mildly bitchy party scene, Sean Mathias's direction has no rhythm, no snap. Scenes meander and then peter out, or just lie there from the start, and despite the frequent presence of extras in military uniforms, we got no sense of being in New York in the 1940s. What few moments of life the play offers come from secondary players.

James Dreyfus brings some energy to the role of Holly's would-be Hollywood agent, but he has only a single scene in which he is given little to do beyond delivering reams of exposition and back-story. Suzanne Bertish has even less stage time as a nosy neighbour, but is fun while she's there, while John Ramm does succeed in creating a believable and sympathetic character in a very brief appearance as Holly's husband.

I actually saw the film for the first time a few years ago and was shocked by the fact that, aside from Hepburn's extraordinary beauty, it was very, very bad. This stage version is not very, very bad - it's just hardly there at all.


Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Breakfast at Tiffany's - Haymarket 2009