Breakfast at Tiffany’s starring Emily Atack is at The King’s Theatre and it has one big problem that no one starring in the role of Holly Golightly can overcome, and that is that this role is just so associated now with Audrey Hepburn in the classic 1961 film version of Truman Capote’s 1958 novella, which was originally intended for publication in Harper’s Baazar magazine. Not only is Audrey Hepburn so strongly associated with the role, but it has become one of the most iconic images of American Cinema in the last 50 years or so and an image that probably most of the audience had in their minds before entering the theatre tonight. To overcome that sort of problem, you need to do something amazing and this simply was not done.
Emily Atack has an impossible role here from the start. Not only is she competing with a cinema icon here, but this story is far more down to earth than the film and visually this blonde Holly is far removed from our expectations - Marilyn Monroe was considered for the part though at one time in the film, so maybe not that far removed. The real problem with this Holly Golightly is that she is far from a naïve dreamer circling around the famous and wealthy men of the city. The sexual element of exactly how she earns her living is very much in your face here...there is absolutely no doubt of her profession here. This Holly Golightly is someone running away from her past, making a living in a very hard way and it is difficult to understand why people are falling in love with her at all. This performance has little depth to it and no naivety or softness and that is not particularly Emily’s fault - that is the character here. This Holly Golightly is just not a character that an audience can care about or maybe even like.
We are introduced here to Holly in flashback as we meet writer Fred (Matt Barber) and it is actually Matt that carries this story along, but there is just not enough depth to his character and allows Matt to only give a very monotone performance. The sexual element of his relationship with Holly is also very in your face at times, and that element of a love fallen through his fingers is lost here.
We do of course get to meet some of the other inhabitants of the building that Holly and Fred live in and some of Holly’s men, but none of them is memorable, and the men have only one interest in Holly...with the exception of one figure from her past, one person who knows who Holly really is, and that relationship is just not explored in enough depth to soften Holly as a character. Oddly enough some lines in the classic “Where Do You Go To My Lovely” by Peter Sarstedt came to my mind at this point.
It is really unfair to compare Emily Atack’s portrayal of Holly to the classic Audrey Hepburn role particularly as this stage version is based on the original story and is set in wartime America (1943) and not later as in the film, and the film itself is only loosely based on the original book. The importance of publicity advertising and imagery in persuading an audience to come to a production is often overlooked, but when your advertising (the production’s and not the theatre’s) is promoting images reminiscent of the iconic film role and the show is using the classic Henri Mancini/Johnny Mercer “Moon River” song from the film, then comparisons are inevitable and this stage version is a victim of its own publicity. In my opinion using a blonde Holly as she is in the play and dressed differently in the promotional material would have made many in the audience more receptive to this production.
To be fair to this production, I really need to see it again and somehow get the iconic film imagery with Audrey Hepburn in that classic Givenchy little black dress out of my mind and treat this as what it is, a grittier slice of story telling. It would have been far better though for everyone in my opinion if the classic Moon River song had been completely left out as the moment you put this into the performance you immediately pull the audience back to the film, and this is simply not the film, and it needs to distance itself from anything connected with it.
If you are going to see this production, do so not expecting the film version...forget about it all together and be prepared for something very different.
Review by Tom King