Truman Capote's novella, BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S really isn't the stuff of drama. It's really a character study with little dramatic conflict. Yet it is as timely as it was when it was written half a century ago.
Holly Golightly is a classic American character, a white trash girl from the sticks who ends up in a world of New York minor celebrities and gangsters. In a way, she's a female version of Fitzgerald's Jay Gatsby. At fourteen Lula Mae marries a veterinarian who gives her a comfortable life, but she has bigger dreams of the world she reads about in magazines and finds herself in New York in the early 1940s (when her creator Truman Capote, a man with an even more insatiable hunger for celebrity, first worked in the city). She's charming and beautiful and men gravitate toward her, but they seem more a means to an ill-defined end. Her social world is made of up people who, like her, are basically all appearance, a world of bad actors playing self-created roles. Enter a young Southern writer who develops an obsession with Holly. He keeps saying "There are all kinds of love," and Holly seems to understand that this is a virginal gay man's crush on someone he wouldn't know what to do with if she did offer herself to him. Holly sees him as "Fred" her brother
To some extent, the formula here is the same as in CABARET (young probably gay writer and larger than life woman), but while that fine musical puts Sally Bowles at the center of a society about to be destroyed, The play gives us the heartless world Holly has chosen to inhabit, but they are really only background to Holly.
Samuel Adamson has turned this story into an absorbing play that is filling the Theatre Royal Haymarket in a brisk, lovely production by Sean Mathias. There are non great dramatic ocnflicts, no shattering moments of self-realization, no grand climax. What we get is a stage realization of Capote's character study. I would have liked the young writer to have more of a life beyond his obsession with Holly, but Adamson wants to keep the spotlight on his central character. The episodic play's success depends on two things: how much we in the audience care about Holly (not everyone will) and the ability of the lead actress to capture this amorphous character. I thought Anna Friel was superb. She's beautiful, which helps, and there seems a sadness and vulnerability that keeps us on her side. Holly is a kind of innocent in a tawdry world and Friel captures that well. When her husband finds her in New York, we see the real person: sweet, unsophisticated Lula Mae who wants to be held and loved. Lula Mae, however, is not the person she wants to be. Friel also sings well. The show is not a musical but Holly does sing a couple of songs during transitions.
Friel's co-star is a young American film actor, Joseph Cross. Like a number of young film and television actors with zero to limited stage experience I have seen recently in plays in London (Matt DiAngelis in LOOT, Matthew Horne in ENTERTAINING MR SLOANE), he has no idea how to project his voice naturally and comfortably on stage so one has the impression that he is shouting every line in a high, whiny voice. I wanted more from the character and the actor.
Friel and Cross are supported by a large, excellent supporting cast, but it's Friel and Holly's play. .
Holly was born a half century too soon. Now attractive, ambitious dreamers can more easily become celebrities without possessing any real marketable skills. Her dream is even more universal than it whas when Capote created her.
BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S by Samuel Adamson. Directed by Sean Mathias. Theatre Royal, Haymarket. October 28, 2009.