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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Haymarket


  Joseph Cross and Anna Friel/ Ph: Johan Persson

Truman Capote's novella was 91 pages. Samuel Adamson's adaption lasts 91 hours. Or so it seemed, as the two and three-quarter hours crawled by on press night (though a late start and an unusually long interval—perhaps so the sponsor, Chambord liqueur, could sell more of its product—added to this). The playwright may have been surprised that his sequence of wham-bam scenes should have this effect, but, as even beginning playwrights should know, that's what happens when you don't let the characters and plot and milieu settle in and take hold of the audience so that they forget about time.

Milieu, however, seems to be a word too exotic for Adamson's vocabulary—or for Sean Mathias' production. The glamour of wartime Manhattan is represented by a backdrop with a silhouetted skyline, and Holly Golightly's brownstone by two fire escapes that flank the stage, occasionally swiveling, meeting, and somehow mating, to give Anna Friel (Holly) and Joseph Cross (William Parsons) a promenade wider than a mile.

Nor does the acting convey any atmosphere. Cross begins the play by shouting at us, and the barking, overemphatic speech, like the many short, sharp scenes, gives the impression of a string of hard-sell TV commercials. Mathias has said that the show would be gritty and realistic, like the story, rather than wistful and romantic, like the movie. But "realistic" is here equated with "dirty." People say "fuck" a lot, and there is a nude scene for Friel, but there is no corresponding realism about the male star's sexual identity. While he and Holly do not become lovers, as in the movie, he is inexperienced and shy, feeling "a different kind of love" for Holly, rather than the obviously gay character of the book. At the end of the play, he's even drafted! There is, bewilderingly, a very nasty patch of anti-Semitism added, when a party guest shrieks, "Shut up, Jew! Hitler had it right!" It is beyond belief that the Holly we know, as free from prejudice as the wild bird with which she is compared, would ignore this and continue being friends with the woman, especially since the insult has been directed at Holly's Jewish friend.

A dozen years older than Holly, and ten years older than Cross, Friel completely lacks the character's sweetness and optimism. She is hard and brittle, and looks like a fading third-rate chorus girl in her frowsy blond wig. Cross is a visually better match for his part, but concentrates on getting across the gee-whiz quality to the detriment of the gentleness and innocence, and he keeps forgetting that he is supposed to be from the deep South, then suddenly remembering and laying on the honey-chile accent. The scene in which the two, spreading their legs and bouncing, pretend to ride horsies, embarrassingly sums up the phoniness of the enterprise. But then so do many other things—the lower-depths stereotype of Suzanne Bertish's Italian neighbour, for instance, who sings opera arias (obviously mimed to a recording) and keeps propositioning William with crude remarks (also not in the book).

It would be nice to be able to say that the human cast was outshone by the nameless cat, but, alas, the unnamed performer in this role was as fat as it was inexpressive. But the backers, for once, offered advice that nearly all the critics were happy to take: In a programme advertisement for their product, they suggested that one finish it off with a raspberry. I couldn't agree more. 


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