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Review Round-up: Is Stage Breakfast Hot or Cold?

Critics got their first look last night at the second production in the Theatre Royal Haymarket season, Samuel Adamson's adaptation of Truman Capote's 1958 novella Breakfast at Tiffany's.

The classic 1961 film version made a star of Audrey Hepburn as the young and charming Holly Golightly, the role played on stage be Anna Friel. The story centres on Golightly's friendship with an aspiring writer (Joseph Cross), her brownstone apartment neighbour, over the course of a single year in 1940s Manhattan.

The novella was turned into a stage show once before, in Boston, Massachusetts in 1966, starring Mary Tyler Moore. It closed after four performances, which director Sean Mathias will be hoping isn't an omen.

Today's reviews are mixed, with some, especially Whatsonstage.com's Michael Coveney (who awarded a solitary star) finding the story “squeezed of speed, juice and flavour” in its stage incarnation. However, others were more kind, particularly the Daily Telegraph's Charles Spencer who, awarding four stars, found it a “cracking night”, and Friel's performance the “sexiest I have seen on stage since Nicole Kidman in The Blue Room”. But this didn't prevent the overall balance swinging in the favour of the negative camp. In the words of the Evening Standard's Henry Hitchings, “a cappuccino of a play, stylish perhaps but not nourishing”.

  • Michael Coveneny on Whatsonstage.com (one star) - “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 ... 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.”
  • Michael Billington in The Guardian (two stars) - “Forget the movie. Samuel Adamson has gone back to Truman Capote's 1958 novella as the source for his play. His intentions are honourable, but the difference between the stage version and the book is like that between a meal prepared by a journeyman cook and by a master chef: the ingredients may be exactly the same, but the taste is emphatically not…There remains Holly herself, whom Anna Friel endows with an elfin grace and blithe charm. She works hard, acts well, and even poses unselfconsciously stark naked on a chaise lounge. Friel is a pleasure to watch, but she never persuades me, any more than Audrey Hepburn did in the movie, that Holly can be embodied: she is an essentially literary creation who exists primarily in the reader's imagination … although a good deal of effort has gone into the production, what we see is the reduction of Capote's small masterpiece to a fragmented play about an eccentric waif.”
  • Henry Hitchings in the Evening Standard (two stars) - “… Some Cinderella-ish touches remain, but this is to a large degree Capote’s call-girl Holly, that tangily expressive creature who tellingly shares her quarters with a tiger-striped tomcat (here an amusingly torpid specimen). However, the real talking point of Sean Mathias’s production may well be the nudity. Friel briefly appears with no clothes on, and while it’s neither titillating nor gratuitous there will inevitably be those who declare themselves shocked. In fact, this production could do with more by way of pulse-quickening incident. There are some noisy moments involving the vulgar talent agent OJ Berman (James Dreyfus) but not much dazzle. Instead it’s all somewhat bitty. Adamson’s script is layered but clunky, and Anthony Ward’s set, dominated by a pair of hulking fire escapes, hardly evokes the racy exoticism of 1940s New York … The saving grace is Friel. Playful and engaging, she deals neatly with the demands of continually dressing up and disrobing … But Friel cannot finally redeem what feels oddly like a musical without the music …Breakfast at Tiffany’s is froth with a small shot of naughtiness in it — a cappuccino of a play, stylish perhaps but not nourishing.”
  • Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail - “Anna Friel is disconcertingly adorable as Holly Golightly. I say 'disconcertingly' because Holly is such a fluff-ball with her butterfly brain and lashes. She embodies everything we can not have, the tease, the brittle splinter who pierces our heart … The show is making a great deal of noise about how it is returning to the spirit of Truman Capote's story rather than the celebrated film. Happily, this is not so. There are plenty of echoes of the film … The staging takes a while to settle down. There are two horrible, white, metal staircases which give the thing a sterile quality … Mr Cross slowly grew on me at last night's opening and both he and Miss Frield deserve a medal for ignoring a fidgety audience seemingly peopled by consumptives. James Dreyfus does a good turn as Holly's agent friend O.J. Berman and Dermot Crowly has his moments as a soft-hearted barman.”
  • Alice Jones in The Independent (two stars) - “The playwright Samuel Adamson and director Sean Mathias have conspired to reimagine the Manhattan adventures of the eternally flighty Holly Golightly … and render them, well, rather dull … Most problematic is William Parsons who has been transposed from Capote's finely nuanced, anonymous narrator into a full-blown leading man. Though the fresh-faced Joseph Cross is credible as the simple boy from Alabama, he's too drippy and clownish for Holly ever to entertain the idea of true romance. In William's narration and elsewhere, Mathias has injected an unwelcome note of crude farce into proceedings, which combine with a rather clunky Manhattan skyline of a set to make this classiest of tales look rather cheap. As all of the ends are diligently and interminably tied up, this is a production, which unlike the divinely restless Holly Golightly, rather outstays its welcome.”
  • Charles Spencer in The Telegraph (four stars) - “ … Yet against all the odds, this proves a cracking night. Samuel Adamson’s new stage adaptation is scrupulously faithful to the original story while adding emotional depth, particularly in rounding out the character of the narrator, who falls under Holly’s irresistible spell. In the book he’s little more than a nameless cipher. Here he becomes a man one increasingly cares about. Anna Friel gives a performance as Golightly that will capture all but the hardest hearts. She may not be quite as beautiful as Hepburn, but she achieves greater dramatic depth, capturing the fear and loneliness that lies behind Holly’s bright façade, the fascinating mixture of warmth and calculation in her relationships, as well as the sheer enchantment of the character…This is also the sexiest performance I have seen on stage since Nicole Kidman in The Blue Room. With her tousled hair, frank sensuality and a script that requires her to spend long stretches of the action in her underwear and, in one scene, nothing at all, Friel creates a thrilling frisson of eroticism. But her emotional nakedness is even more spellbinding, as she allows the audience to discover the great ache of hurt and vulnerability that lies beneath Holly’s increasingly desperate gaiety. I’m not ashamed to admit that Friel’s heartbreak in her final scene moved me to tears.”
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