Pixie Lott's Breakfast At Tiffany's Can Be Skipped
Forget Brexit: this week is all about the much-heralded opening of Breakfast at Tiffany’s at Haymarket Theatre featuring multi-million-pop-album-selling minstrel Pixie Lott and a scene-stealing cat.
In this adaptation by Richard Greenberg, the singer steps into the central role of Holly Golightly and follows in the footsteps of Daenerys Targaryen, who starred in the 2013 Broadway run. For better or for worse (most often the latter), it leans more towards from Truman Capote’s 1958 slim novella than the iconic 1961 film starring Hollywood golden girl Audrey Hepburn and a pre-A-Team George Peppard.
Set largely in New York in 1944, the central plot sees Golightly exchanging physical favours for financial remuneration and advancement — something which in her mind are interchangeable — as she scales the face of polite society one rich mug at a time. Fred (Matt Barber), an impoverished young milquetoast of a writer, lives in the same apartment block as her and wants more than her friendship. Meanwhile, Holly’s past is about to catch up with her.
This latest take has had around a month of previews to build up steam plus the run in New York three years ago so it is quite something to see a play as dull as this taking up precious West End space. Sure, there's the welcome rendition of Moon River, plenty of plot twists and the occasional gag or three but it very rarely rises above the pedestrian as a theatrical experience.
Much of the fault can be laid at the door of Greenberg’s script. His expansion of Capote’s classic story plugs the gaps with elements of drama, romance, darkness and humour but they simply don’t deliver; instead, the holes are invariably plugged with loud Polyfilla banter. All the main characters are equally unlikeable and the minor characters fare little better. The quirky and quarrelsome rollerskating fake opera singer-cum-nosy neighbour Mme Spanella (Melanie Barrie) is given far too many facets by Greenberg for the paltry stage time she is allotted and fails to be the comic relief this production desperately needs.
Furthermore, the script is wordy and — Lott aside — gives the cast little room to breathe. Characters other than Golightly are shorn of agency and the symbolism is occasionally heavier than at a Passover meal; an ornate and large birdcage bought by our anti-heroine for Fred is just one example, being an outstandingly obvious literal metaphor that says: “Look! Holly is trapped by her situation and lives in her own gilded cage!” Thanks. For. That.
Director Nikola Foster does his job here with all the subtlety of a Sicilian and the consistency of Donald Trump. Any nuance in the play is trampled underfoot by episodes of comically bad overacting. Dialogue is either purred out by Golightly or BOOMED OUT by the remainder of the cast. The set design can’t decide if Fred lives upstairs from Holly or two doors along. The musical aspect is played up at the beginning but later is sporadic and Lott only gets three numbers in total to show off her vocal talents.
Speaking of Fred, Foster and Greenberg’s portrayal of him is a travesty in its own right. Named by Golightly after her brother fighting in the war, his chief task is to serve as a dutifully reliable narrator who flips between two alter egos: Lord Friendzone and Captain Exposition. Greenberg goes where Capote didn’t and explicitly makes Fred a bisexual boy-next-door who is continually pushed away by his lady paramour. Playing a one-dimensional character with few significant interactions outside of those with Golightly, Barber is essentially asked to be a brunette Ken doll who spends as much time frowning, pouting and posing as anything else.
The casting leaves something to be desired too. In one of Hollywood’s most famous cases of “yellowface”, the Breakfast at Tiffany's film saw white actor Mickey Rooney hamming it up with prosthetics and a phony accent to play the Japanese photographer Yunioshi. Given the ongoing uproar over that decision and how this summer’s Absolutely Fabulous movie again raised this issue, it seems a tad curious to cast English/Indian actor Andrew Joshi in that same role. Also, as Golightly’s gal pal Mag, Naomi Cranston struggles with her accent which comes across as Arkansas via Australia; this raises the question of why plays set in America find it necessary to force actors to speak through variable-quality US accents while plays like Romeo and Juliet or The Merchant Of Venice which are set in Italy get along fine with actors rolling out the prose in inch-perfect RP.
On the plus side, Lott positively fizzes throughout and lifts Breakfast a few notches higher than it should be considering its considerable faults. Sevan Stephan superbly chews up the scenery as the tough-talking OJ Berman, Victor McGuire gives stout support as the anguished bartender Joe Bell and the scene-stealing Bob The Cat deserves an Olivier nomination for the remarkable way in which he silently but steadfastly adds much of what passes for pathos in this misbegotten adaptation.
It would be too much of a cheap shot to label this play a dog’s breakfast, even if it is a flat and unentertaining mess for the most part. Lott is a touch too pristine to truly convince as Golightly but the singer is undoubtably Breakfast's saving grace. Capote’s effortlessly light and precise prose is rendered leaden and grey in Greenberg’s hands and Foster adds insult to injury with his woefully heavy-handed directing. Despite modern dietary advice to the contrary, there would be no harm done by skipping this particular Breakfast.
Breakfast at Tiffany's continues at the Haymarket Theatre until 17 September. Tickets can be bought through the official website. Londonist attended on a press ticket.
Last Updated 29 July 2016