FringeReview UK 2016
Closely adapted by Richard Greenberg, Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote’s 1958 novella – will surprise those who know the movie. Those who know the novella, too. On tour from the West End it’s reached Theatre Royal Brighton. Directed by Nikolai Foster it boasts a marvellously active set by Matthew Wright with lighting by Ben Cracknell.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote’s shimmering 1958 novella – has been closely adapted by Richard Greenberg; so those who know the movie will be surprised. Those who know the novella, too. Directed by Nikolai Foster its marvellously active set by Matthew Wright and lighting by Ben Cracknell make a heroic contribution. On tour from the West End it’s reached Theatre Royal Brighton to a packed audience sent out entertained and mostly satisfied.
The second of four novels adapted for the stage to arrive at the Theatre Royal this autumn all at once might feel a little much of an indulgent thing; it’s how the schedules worked out. More than the drama equivalent of jukebox musicals these adaptations often refract through movies; shaking off Audrey Hepburn’s transcendently vulnerable film performance will take more than a change of hair colour. Georgia May Foote’s publicity shows dark hair, though she arrives (like her West End predecessor Pixie Lott) Monroe-like; the shift marks a brazen-edged difference. Well, Capote remarks Holly Golightly’s ‘vari-coloured hair was somewhat self-induced.’
That feline prose tells you something of the challenges Greenberg faces, and he’s not the first. And a real cat pads into scene-stealing like one of those half-remembered sentences. The story of a young writer’s infatuation with a highly sexualised but curiously innocent good-time girl who papers over her hillbilly origins runs a shimmering construction, a prose lit with Chinese lanterns. Characters flit in and out of the 1940s envelope recalled in 1957. Bars slide in with the rain, skylines out, and doors and bedsit sets drop in well-announced. The stage business is tremendous, the character acting formidable, rippling with brilliant tableaux. It’s utterly un-dramatic but Golightly so embodies the newly-liberated woman seen from a neutered viewpoint that a film immediately followed – with significant changes.
Not that Greenberg hasn’t encoded his own. This Fred (the writer) is played by Matt Baber as a nascent Truman Capote; that high-pitched laugh, the supercilious sentences out of the novel, the hint of camp – we’re used to this from the two films made of the novelist in 2005. None of this existed originally but it’s a way of colouring the transparent narrator. Day-glo adventures in a store-room and Golightly’s suggestion that Fred hook up with sailors on Brooklyn Bridge though over-projects writer with persona, and spoils the delicate balance perilously maintained by the story.
Barber’s preppy, ambiguous and appealingly hapless. His petulant front refuses to overdo camp further and these tensions mark his distinction. He’s best upstage, since like Foote he can edge to shrillness downstage.
This is a play with music, but all but two numbers are cut. Grant Olding’s ballad is kept with his version of Moon River, which in her stage debut Foote sings in a frail appealing arc. She’s no musician like Lott but though this version was conceived as a vehicle for Lott too, it’s fitting the slightly gratuitous inclusion of music – however appealing – is further cut. Foote sings it as Golightly might have. It’s the nearest we get to seeing character and actor in nervous repose, not playing out to her Breakfast at Tiffany’s ambitions. Elsewhere her voice, evenly shrill, seems accurate though without yet the full confidence to register much tonal difference or subtlety. It’s already an act of course, and Foote’s attempt to seem attempting an act is admirable, even if it mightn’t be the full Golightly.
The one dramatic reveal on Golightly closes the first half, indeed we close the end with a recitation of the end of the novella (spoiler – a cat reappears) as a confirmation that Greenberg feels the best dramatic magic is to shoehorn bits of the novella’s prose in where possible. He’s not wrong.
It’s the character-acting too that keeps this near-impossible-to-dramatize story a play. Victor McGuire as tough-tender barman who stands by Golightly and cajoles others to, is affecting. And David Cardy as the deep ironist O J Berman and doctor, owns a wonderful speech near the beginning that briefly promises this to be a true drama. Tim Frances takes on louche parts too and the seamed characters work as hard as the stage machinery to brighten tableaux vivant behind the gossamer protagonists. Since the film’s different, this charmingly-attempted soufflé of an adaptation might do the best service of all: send people in search of a ninety-page novella with all its fragile epiphanies intact; and that’s in large readable print.