Breakfast at Tiffany’s: Holly Golightly returns to her roots

The new stage show is closer to Truman Capote’s source novella than the glam Hollywood film. Can Pixie Lott pull off the complex lead role?

 

In making the transition from page to screen, Truman Capote’s beloved Holly Golightly underwent a huge transformation. The fabulous bachelorette icon against which all others are measured was as elusive as she was charming. Although both iterations were insecure and slightly delusional, Blake Edwards turned Holly (played by Audrey Hepburn) into a fabulous, independent jet- setter. Edwards’s retelling was effectively a vehicle for its main star (Capote famously petitioned for Marilyn Monroe to take the role, to little effect). Fans of Capote’s novella found many of the details of the original whitewashed, its aspiration and glamour ramped up to the nines.

The stage version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, adapted by Richard Greenberg, rolls into Dublin’s Grand Canal theatre later this month, and its producers are at pains to point out that the production will doff its cap primarily to Capote’s novella.

“People expect a recreation of the film onstage, and that’s really not what we’re doing,” says director Nikolai Foster, at a press event in London. “[The book] was an intense, wordy study of cafe society in New York in the first half of the last century. It charts Holly and her writer friend going on an extraordinary journey; he’s exploring his sexuality, while Holly is coming to terms with her own past. There are laughs and fun along the way, but it’s a complex, very beautiful play that’s very different from the movie.”

The play’s makers have cherry-picked certain elements from Edwards’s big-screen version: in the promotional material, Holly (played by Pixie Lott) is wearing Hepburn’s iconic dark sunglasses, beehive and pearls. Henry Mancini’s Moon River – the film’s most enduring ditty – has also made its way into the stage production. To omit it from today’s production, says Foster, would be “churlish and a little bit mean”.

Earthy and soulful

Foster says the likeable Lott is a delight to work with and has “true old-school star quality”. It’s certainly easy to see why people would warm to the 25-year-old singer. Her eyes are pools of brown, her voice is smooth, earthy and soulful, her overall shtick sweet as molasses. No wonder that Simon Cowell enlisted her as a temporary judge as part of his X Factor juggernaut in 2009. BBC bosses, too, saw fit to recruit Lott for Strictly Come Dancing in 2014.

Lott is still finding her sea legs when it comes to the gruelling schedule of the jobbing stage actor, but she is rising to the challenge with aplomb, going so far as to learn the guitar for the role. There is also the not-inconsiderable element of crying on cue, night after night.

“There’s so much hard work,” she says. “It’s both physically and emotionally draining. I thought pop people work hard, but those theatre guys work hard. If it’s a two-show day, I have to be in at 1pm to get into my wig and make-up, then do a show, then go out and grab some food, and then come back and do another one. It’s full-on.”

Camera-ready

Outside the London press conference, a slew of paparazzi are waiting to take Lott’s photo. She is camera-ready: is that one of the hazards of the job?

“It comes with the territory,” she smiles sweetly. “At least today you know it’s happening. It’s not as good when you don’t expect them and you can end up looking so disgusting.”

Still, take a gander through the headlines generated about Lott in the past month, and she has “shown off her locks”, “wowed in an LBD”, “showed off her toned midriff” and “stripped down to her bikini”. All par for the course for most female celebrities, but with nary a mention of her work, does this not get a touch grating?

“I just go with the flow,” she smiles sweetly. “The world is like that now.”

Lott smiles sweetly a lot; so much so that she is imperceptible beneath her glossy, smooth veneer. The problem with glossy, smooth veneers, however, is that there is not much room for edge. And in today’s cut-throat music industry, where the turnover of pop princesses happens at breakneck speed, a modicum of edge, and a flash of danger, is always useful.

In this respect, Lott errs on the side of caution. She is not a mischievous pop imp; rather, she is a pleasant twentysomething who probably hopes that the work and her professionalism do all the talking. Her one concession to quirk is her tendency to wander around barefoot, which appears to be something of a trademark.

When I mention that she will be spending a lot of time in Dublin, her response appears somewhat media-managed: “Oh I love Dublin. I’m the biggest fan,” she says. “Last time I went there I had the rare opportunity to explore with my family, and we went to the Guinness place, to Johnny Fox’s, to see the Irish dancers . . . It’s such a good vibe there and I’m excited to go back to it.”

Lott landed in the British and Irish charts in 2009, at a point when a wave of British female singers seemed to appear as one: Paloma Faith, Ellie Goulding, Jessie J, Birdy . . . It must have been difficult to stand out amid the pack? Lott deflects the question with the elan of a media-trained veteran, smiling all the while.

“It wasn’t a concern, but there must have been loads because I remember people were always asking me about it,” she says. “We’re all different, so we didn’t have to compete. We had our own vibe.”

Lott grew up listening to the likes of Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston and Celine Dion.The Londoner was a fixture at the Italia Conti Academy Saturday school from the age of five, finally landing a full-time place at the academy when she was 11. From an early age, she always wanted to be what she describes as a “triple threat”: a showbiz star who could sing, dance and act with equal poise.

“That’s why I love Beyoncé,” she enthuses. “She’s fierce. That’s my goal. You want to be known as good at your professions. There’s nothing worse than people thinking you’re not very good.”

Pop behemoth

Still, Beyoncé might be hailed as a pop industry behemoth, but she has yet to crack the acting industry in any meaningful way. It’s something that can often befall pop stars: this idea that a trajectory into acting is an unwelcome one.

“Well, first and foremost I am a singer, and I feel there are no rules,” says Lott. “Think of how many old-school stars could do both, like Barbra Streisand. I want to learn as much as I want. You can never stop learning.”

The interview over, Lott is whisked away. She has pledged to bring her personality and “own vibe” to her performance in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. So far, the critics in the UK have been kind, but whether Lott’s thoroughly modern vibe will be enough to do the complexity of Holly Golightly justice remains anyone’s guess. And, much like the enigmatic, shadowy but effervescent character she will bring to life, one can’t help but wonder that knowing the real Lott really might be something.

  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s is at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin, June 13th-18th. Tickets are €17.50-€45. bordgaisenergytheatre.ie

HEPBURN’S HOLLY: THE ORIGINAL SINGLE-GIRL ICON
The “single girl finding herself in New York” is a worn trope by now, but Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly was one of the first, and best. With her studied quirks, Givenchy gowns and tiara, Holly became something of a touchstone for young single women. Commitment-phobic, flirtatious, charming and enchanted by consumerist culture, she became a symbol of a wave of bachelorettes who believed that New York’s cafe society was the centre of the universe of the footloose and fancy-free.

Underneath her fiercely independent and nonconformist persona, however, Blake Edwards’s Holly Golightly was secretly vulnerable, as much hoping for a sidekick in life as anyone else.

And it wasn’t just Holly’s predilection for eyeing up unattainable jewels at Tiffany’s (on, ostensibly, a walk of shame) that hit a nerve with young women. Long before Amy Schumer’s portrayal of a singleton struggling with the rigours of adult life in Trainwreck, Holly would climb into strangers’ windows and forget her house keys.

Her fondness for serial dating, throwing random parties, napping during the daytime and sleeping with her neighbours made not having one’s act together look aspirational.

Given that the film came out in 1961, when Americans had cast-iron ideas of womanhood and domesticity, Holly Golightly was nearly radical. Not fitting in, as several single women felt they didn’t, was suddenly glamorous.

Yet she’s a woman, it transpires, with a past. She was once married to Doc (played by Buddy Ebsen in the film), has been arrested for delivering secret messages to an imprisoned criminal, and proves to have a stealing habit. She escaped her teenage marriage, we find, in pursuit of self-actualisation.

Yet Holly is desired and loved just as she is, and this was several decades before Bridget Jones came along.

Holly’s unique allure is such that aforesaid neighbour even offers to help her look for her cat down a rain-soaked alleyway.

Film critics had, upon its release, hailed Breakfast at Tiffany’s as a progressive step in the depiction of female film characters, making Golightly something of a proto-feminist. A proto-feminist and a cat lady? No wonder her appeal has endured through the decades.

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