Truman Capote’s heroine Holly Golightly was unforgettably immortalised on celluloid in 1961 by the incomparable Audrey Hepburn. Capote’s novella is a much darker beast than the movie adaptation and it is on this source material that Tony Award-winning Richard Greenberg’s stage version is based, returning the action to Capote’s original post-Depression 1940s.
It’s a world where a whole generation of young men are at war and those left behind are in limbo. In their tiny apartments in a down at heel brownstone, dwarfed by the mighty New York skyline, aspiring writer Fred (As Holly calls him) lives upstairs, excused from active duty due to asthma and struggling to get a break. Downstairs, good-time girl Holly relies on a string of middle-aged suitors to make ends meet. As Holly flits from man to man and Fred finds work elusive, Fred charts their dysfunctional relationship in a series of flash-backs.
In Greenberg’s wordy adaptation, the success of the players varies considerably. Matt Barber’s Fred is a delight from start to finish, onstage throughout, he has whole swathes of Capote’s wonderful prose to recite and his emotional journey from infatuated admirer, to confidant, to lover, to heartbreak, is beautifully judged.
Hepburn is a hard act to follow, and however removed her portrayal of Holly is compared to Capote’s original creation, it is indelibly etched on everyone’s mind. Emily Atack, in her first stage outing lacks the magnetism that the role requires, her delivery is flat, dialogue is rushed and her accent wildly varied, it is an unremittingly dull performance from start to end. Holly is a charismatic, vivacious, irresistible creation and how Fred ever becomes entranced is hard to fathom in Atack’s characterisation. And while she looks lovely, she is far from ‘this exquisite extrovert who every woman wants to be and every man wants to be with”. Where she does shine (like her distant cousin Paul McCartney) is in the three (somewhat incongruous) songs: Oklhoma’s People Might Say We’re in Love, Grant Olding’s newly penned country-tinged Hold Up My Dying Day and, of course, in Moon River.
In a cast of 12, Greenberg’s adaptation only really allows these two main characters to register, but Robert Calvert as Doc, Holly’s past writ large, makes a mark – sensitively played, it tugs at the heartstrings.
There’s also a cat, an amazing cat, a cat so well trained it’s hard to believe it’s a real cat, and when Bob the cat garners more reaction than many of the actors, you know you’re possibly not in a good place.
The thing that shines like a great big Tiffany diamond is Matthew Wright’s scenic design. Technically impressive, the scene transitions; from the apartments, the steel fire escape, Joe’s Bar and all manner of locations, fall in from the flies and from the side of the stage with impressive ease and all accompanied by an evocative soundtrack and atmospheric lighting from Ben Cracknell, that lend the whole production a filmic quality.
There’s real potential here, Barber and the supporting cast are excellent, the set design period-perfect and atmospheric, but it lacks a leading lady to set the stage on fire – too much surface and no substance consigns one of the literary world’s greatest creations to being a stage flop. It’s a pity.
Image credits: Alan Geary/Sean Ebsworth Barnes