What can you remember of ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ - Mickey Rooney with an unconvincing set of false teeth and a cringingly awful Chinese accent? Audrey Hepburn cool as a January cucumber in her swept-up chignon, tiara, pearls and yard-long cigarette holder? The gamine, twittery but ultimately loveable party girl around whom New York whirls like snowflakes in a lightweight comedy?
Ain’t none of that here at the Haymarket where undeniably beautiful Anna Friel plays Holly Golightly far closer to Billie Piper in Secret Diary of a Call Girl. Brightly peroxide (collar and cuffs, apparently, from the fleeting glimpse in the nude scene) and occasionally in a picture hat that makes her look disconcertingly like a shiitake mushroom, she may be closer to Truman Capote’s vision of Marilyn Monroe for the part, but captures only some of Holly’s mercurial quality.
To misquote Portia, the quality of mercury has become strained and in 2009 it doesn’t seem quite so ‘appropriate’ for attractive but insubstantial waifs to make a living from merely flirting with middle-aged suitors. Not that this is a morality play about prostitution, or, indeed, about anything apart from the characters who surround Holly, all of them ciphers.
Coming in at a butt-numbing two and three-quarter hours, the play is a succession of quick-change vignette scenes, using what look like two fire-escape staircases left over from a low-budget tour of ‘West Side Story’: there’s no depth, there’s no engagement - in Samuel Adamson’s adaptation of the original Truman Capote novella, it’s simply too hard to care about the characters.
Perhaps appropriately for Ms. Golightly, Friel looks everything but delivers nothing. Style over substance would be fine but she lacks the vital edge which makes Holly emotionally dangerous.
The production’s further damaged by the dismal performance of James Dreyfus, bad enough in Cabaret but here attempting the role of a cigar-chomping movie mogul and still coming out as Tom in Gimme Gimme Gimme. Suzanne Bertish has a better go at the vampish Italian neighbour Madame Spanella, although in a fringed gypsy skirt and paso doble gesturings, she seems to pitch it closer to Madrid than Milan. She’s meant to be an opera singer but mimes her arias, couldn’t they cast someone who could sing?
Capote once said the film was ‘a mawkish Valentine to New York City’ - here it’s more like a Tesco Value birthday card with the Manhattan skyline reduced to a few cheap cutouts against a backcloth lit variously in turquoise and magenta.
At the end, the loose ends of Holly’s story are all tied up, but you’ll yearn for the syrupy closing shots of Audrey and the strains of ‘Moon River’.
Production photo by Johan Persson