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Breakfast at Tiffany's

Anna Friel stars as Holly Golightly in this intermittently successful stage adaptation of Truman Capote's novella.

Anna Friel in Breakfast at Tiffany's
(© Johan Persson)
It's one of cinema's most iconic images: Audrey Hepburn in her black dress and pearls, clutching a pastry and peering at the displays in the store windows at Tiffany's. It's also not one that's recreated in Sean Mathias' new stage production of Breakfast at Tiffany's at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in the West End, because this is very specifically a staging of Truman Capote's novella, rather than its celluloid incarnation. So there's no Moon River and no cracker box ring; instead adaptor Samuel Adamson reinstates the original 1940s wartime setting and ditches the Hollywood ending creating a reworking that is frustratingly bitty and only intermittently poignant.

The focus of the work remains on Holly Golightly (Anna Friel), escort of wealthy men and possible call girl, a survivor and a chameleon, forever in search of a place to call home. William Parsons (Joseph Cross) is the young, yet-to-be-published writer who moves into her Manhattan brownstone and finds himself besotted with her. He's not alone. Men are drawn to Holly, something she encourages and depends on, but she keeps a necessary emotional distance and rarely lets her mask fall. She even refuses to give her cat a name because neither really belongs to the other.

Friel makes a fair attempt at what is a complex role. Wearing a succession of dramatic hats and dresses, she's swift-tongued and poised, yet childish and unashamedly manipulative. At times, she's also utterly vulnerable, crumbling convincingly when she discovers her beloved brother has been killed overseas. She's certainly charismatic and has a charming singing voice when she sits at her window strumming her guitar, but can also seem lacking in confidence. In trying to humanize Holly, Friel almost seems to curl up within the character. Cross, on the other hand, is appealingly boyish and open-faced in his slightly anonymous role, but he never quite lets the audience in.

Anthony Ward's set, with its two pivoting steel fire escapes and its New York skyline painted on a backdrop of Tiffany blue, is one of the production's chief problems. It seems afraid of stillness; screens are always rising and falling, stairs are forever swinging into place, and all this motion allows little space for the characters to just stand and speak.

There are a few nice turns amongst the large supporting cast -- most notably, John Ramm is oddly touching as Holly's former husband, Doc Golightly, arriving in search of his Lula Mae -- but in the main they just add to the noise in which any real sense of intimacy or emotion is drowned out.

Moreover, there are too many short scenes that necessitate the moving of props and a stop-start feel to the pacing that Mathias only really resolves later in the production, as he funnels things towards their inevitable and genuinely bittersweet conclusion.