Well, I know Anna Friel’s played whores before – she was a terrific Lulu at the Almeida, and she turned tricks in Jimmy McGovern’s The Street on television – but that’s not strong enough an impulse to justify a stage version of Truman Capote’s touching and beautiful novella, Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Or is it? Will audiences be agreeably shocked that this Holly Golightly services old men in the powder room to maintain a city lifestyle in her 1943 New York brownstone, recalled in 1957, where she falls in with the Capote-style wannabe writer from Alabama?
Playwright Samuel Adamson hopes you will engage with the story on stage despite having bought a ticket because you love the movie. But this is disingenuous of him. You can take a ride on the movie title as long as you do something wonderful and additional to either movie or book. Adamson and director Sean Mathias do neither.
The show stutters along as a feeble hymn to Manhattan and an even feebler shadow of Capote’s glittering prose style. It’s fairly loyal without being fresh or interesting. Audrey Hepburn may have been inscrutably and inappropriately pure in the movie, but she looked amazing.
Friel’s Holly, fitted out with two really horrible blonde wigs (the first makes her look like Dolly Parton in a high wind, the second like a middle-aged Jean Seberg) is way too old for Joseph Cross’ baby-faced, irritatingly bad-tempered writer. The balance of Capote’s narrative is all wrong, and it’s squeezed of speed, juice and flavour in the clunky staging.
Instead of a free spirit of 20, this Holly’s a tarty siren, which is just cheap, lying naked on a sun lounger with a good bottom-up view for the dress circle, or screaming like a copulating vixen when news comes through of her brother’s death at Monte Cassino. Friel has a good strong voice and she surprises us only when she plays guitar and sings popular standards.
Oh, and she has a cat, which is ginger and fluffy and very well-behaved. Designer Anthony Ward goes down the old Manhattan skyline route with two huge mobile fire escapes, where the other lodgers appear like phantoms, notably Suzanne Bertish’s irate Madame Spanella, miming (oh dear) her operatic snippets; cut the Donizetti, boys, or hire a singer.
James Dreyfus chips in with a very funny producer, yelling ridiculously at his own party; Dermot Crowley is affecting as the old barman who carries a torch for Holly; and Gwendoline Christie is an astonishingly tall and well-dressed Mag Wildwood.
The other Holly admirers are neatly done by pocket-sized James Bradshaw as the society pin-up and Felix D'Alviella as the Brazilian playboy. But there seems no rhyme or reason to the exercise. They’ve thumbed a lift and gone to sleep en route.