With only Anna Friel’s clipped, upper-class American accent as a homage to Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast At Tiffany’s opened at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, in a production that is much darker and more revealing than the story most will remember.
Firmly based on Truman Capote’s 1958 novella rather than the film that made Holly Golightly an icon, the force of life that is the young Holly is more streetwise, wittier and considerably more worldly than the delicate Dior-clad woman portrayed by Hepburn. Living in an apartment with no furniture but with a healthy supply of Chanel and martinis, Holly’s less than savoury profession is alluded to with a constant supply of men arriving at her doorstep and her ability to demand $50 for a trip to the powder room.
It is at this building that Holly meets the young writer William Parsons. Nicknaming him Fred after her beloved brother who is away at war, the two begin a tempestuous friendship as they both try to make their way in New York; Fred trying to get the New Yorker to notice him and Holly more concerned with the attentions of richer men and sucking every pleasure she can out of life.
As Fred falls for the vivacious and exciting Holly – as everyone, quite understandably, cannot help but do – he learns quickly that her short attention span and inability to settle in one place make for an unhappy life, his wide-eyed innocence losing its sparkle as he becomes a part of Holly’s complex life, built on a web of lies and a selection of fabulous dresses.
Set against a Tiffany blue sky and cut out city skyline, a blond Friel is captivating as the perpetually cool Holly, a woman who can’t even name her cat – played by a hilariously docile tabby – until she has found a place that feels like home. Constantly on form and always intelligent beyond her years, Holly’s vulnerability only shines through when she sings, strumming folk and Rodgers and Hammerstein on her guitar. The other characters in the production serve to add a comic edge; the roller-skating, opera singing Italian wannabe vamp living upstairs, Holly’s prison inmate client Sally Tomato, grown-up baby Rusty Trawler who Holly treats like a naughty child, Mag Wildwood, a seemingly 8ft supermodel, and James Dreyfuss as the obnoxious, loud agent O J Berman.
With a far from happy ending, Breakfast At Tiffany’s is a very different experience from the escapism and romance of the film, successfully affirming director Sean Mathias and writer Samuel Anderson’s desire to stay true to Capote’s story. In their hands, the story becomes an exploration of the many different ways people can love someone and the pain that this can cause, all wrapped up in fabulous dresses, over sized sunglasses and red lipstick, of course; some things about Golightly can never be changed.