Breakfast at Tiffany's
Critics go lightly
In 1958 Truman Capote published a novella about a late-teen country lass turned New York café society girl called Holly Golightly. Set in a brownstone apartment in Manhattan's Upper East Side in 1943 Holly has no job and lives by socialising with wealthy suitors who wine and dine her and buy her expensive presents.
As the story unfolds we get to find out more about Holly’s personal life and the men who fall under her spell, love, desire and pursue her.
In 1961 Paramount Pictures immortalised the story in film starring Audrey Hepburn. And, for better or worse, that’s the Holly Golightly we all remember. That is if we remember her at all and you need to be of a certain age to do so.
Received positively at the time, the film won two Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Best Original Song for Moon River.
But stage versions of the book have had a far unhappier time of it. A musical version premiered in 1966 in Boston was panned by the critics and, despite a rewrite by Pulitzer prizewinning author Edward Albee, closed after only four performances.
Three years after the musical adaptation, Stefanie Powers starred in another reworking, Holly Golightly, an ABC sitcom pilot which remained unsold.
And there have also been two further adaptations of the novella into stage plays. Anna Friel played Holly in 2009 at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in London to mixed reviews and in 2013 Richard Greenberg’s adaptation for a Broadway production at the Cort Theatre, starring Emilia Clarke, also failed to scintillate.
Then in July of this year the Greenberg show was revived once again at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket with pop star Pixie Lott in the lead role.
It was a sell-out but, as one critic wrote 'although she (Pixie Lott) works tirelessly hard on her theatrical debut, Richard Greenberg’s version is no more successful than its predecessors'.
Well I suppose there is something to be said for persistence but with a track record like that it takes a brave person to take on the role of Holly Golightly. And a brave theatre-making decision to stage a play that has repeatedly failed its audience.
So with that fairly doom and gloom introduction what was I to make of Breakfast at Tiffany’s at the Bristol Hippodrome this week with Georgia May Foote reprising the role of the elusive good-time girl?
Well curiously enough, and despite my pre-performance reservations I sort of enjoyed it.
Directed by Nikolai Foster the cast also includes Matt Barber (Atticus Aldridge in Downton Abbey) as Fred, Victor McGuire (the sit-coms Trollied and Goodnight Sweetheart) as Joe Bell, Robert Calvert as Doc, Naomi Cranston as Mag, Charlie De Melo as José and Tim Frances as Rusty.
Georgia May Foote fresh from a long run in Coronation Street and a 2015 Strictly Come Dancing finalist made her theatrical debut in this touring production.
And in many respects she was on a hiding to nothing.
Firstly Audrey Hepburn’s performance in the 1961 film is so iconic that it has become impossible for successive actors to fully embrace the character without inadequately imitating the film star.
Secondly the book just does not translate happily onto the stage. Although the dialogue and language is rich (as you would expect from Capote) the story lacks any real depth or drama and, at times, becomes a little tedious. There is a huge difference between reading a book, seeing a film and watching a play. And on the stage it becomes almost impossible to turn an uninspiring and pedestrian plot into a prize-winning production.
However, I thought that Georgia May Foote did a good job with the material at her command. She captured Holly Golightly’s complex character very well: I got the free spirit, determined not be pinned down or to take life too seriously and I empathised with her vulnerability and her moments of distress. I also liked her singing voice, her American accent, her chutzpah and her boundless energy.
Playing opposite Holly is the young writer from Louisiana who is never named but everyone calls Fred. Played by Matt Barber (probably best known for his role as Atticus) he is onstage for just about the whole show as our protagonist. He is utterly entranced by Holly when she clambers through his apartment window one evening and instantly finds himself beguiled by this social butterfly even though he himself is struggling with his own sexuality. He has real charisma and successfully orchestrates the whole production as the narrator. Throughout the performance the magnetism (and antagonism) between himself and Holly is totally believable.
The supporting cast members add plenty of interest and intrigue. There are some genuinely tender moments between Doc (very well played by Robert Calvert) and Fred, and Doc and Holly; Victor McGuire nicely captured Joe Bell the barman in a visual Edward Hopper manner, and Charlie De Melo was convincing as the love-rat Jose who eventually runs out on Holly.
And there was a lot of appreciation for Bob playing Holly’s stunning white fluffy cat.
Foot purrfect throughout!
There was also a lot to admire about Matthew Wright’s set with scenes shifting seamlessly and slickly from bedroom to bar and back again (I especially liked the Brooklyn Bridge scene). The musical soundtrack and lighting was just right to create the desired venues and ambience.
However, all in all this is a difficult production to evaluate.
The actors played their parts well with no obvious weak spots although there were a couple of irrelevancies. But somehow the sum of those parts never quite gelled into a satisfying whole – I rather suspect that most of us (and that includes my theatre-going companions) were somewhat disappointed in this particular theatrical experience.
Whom to blame – I know not, certainly not the cast.
The inescapable conclusion might be that after 50 years or so of trying, this tale is simply not for telling.
Actually, I do know who to blame - Audrey Hepburn!
Breakfast at Tiffany runs at the Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday.
Preview: Go Golightly
Soap star Georgia May Foote is to play the iconic role of Holly Golightly in the stage production of Breakfast at Tiffany’s which plays at the Bristol Hippodrome from Monday to Saturday, September 26-October 1.
Georgia was runner-up in last year’s BBC Strictly Come Dancing television competition.
Her television credits include Katy Armstrong in Coronation Street, Gemma in This Is England ’86 and Alison Simmons in Grange Hill.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s is her professional stage debut.
Georgia said, “I am so excited that for my first theatre role I will be playing such an iconic character.
"I cannot wait to join the cast of Breakfast at Tiffany’s as Holly Golightly.
"It’s a wonderful adaptation of an incredible story and I'm really thrilled to be part of it!”
Director Nikolai Foster, said: "I am delighted Georgia is playing the role of Holly Golightly in our production of Breakfast at Tiffany's.
"It's a thrilling prospect for all of us to be working with an actor who is perfectly suited to the role and will encourage a new generation of theatregoers to share Capote's beautiful story."
Also in the cast of Breakfast at Tiffany’s are Matt Barber (Atticus Aldridge in Downton Abbey) as Fred, Victor McGuire (the sit-coms Trollied and Bread) as Joe Bell, Robert Calvert as Doc, Naomi Cranston as Mag, Charlie De Melo as José, Tim Frances as Rusty Trawler/Editor at 21, Andrew Joshi as Yunioshi, Melanie La Barrie as Mme Spanella, and Sevan Stephan as OJ Berman/Dr Goldman, with Katy Allen and Andy Watkins.
Truman Capote’s classic novella has been adapted for the stage by Pulitzer Prize-winning Finalist and Tony and Olivier Award-winning playwright Richard Greenberg (Take Me Out, Three Days of Rain), and contains memorable songs from the era as well as original music by Grant Olding (One Man, Two Guvnors).
Based on Truman Capote’s beloved masterwork, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is set in New York in 1943.
Fred, a young writer from Louisiana, meets Holly Golightly, a charming, vivacious and utterly elusive good-time girl.
Everyone falls in love with Holly - including Fred.
But Fred is poor, and Holly’s other suitors include a playboy millionaire and the future president of Brazil.
As war rages on in Europe, Holly begins to fall in love with Fred – just as her past catches up with her.
Tickets from £19.40 by clicking HERE.
PHOTO: Georgia May Foote as Holly Golightly © Sean Ebsworth Barnes