I don’t really like the way the West End is going. Fortunately, the number of musicals based on the back catalogues of musicians seems to have fallen off somewhat (when the Proclaimers have a touring musical, you know something has to be done). Revivals don’t bother me so much, at least as long as they stay away from deciding the stars via reality TV. Musicals based on films just piss me off.
Andrew Lloyd Webber is going with the novel idea of a sequel to Phantom of the Opera with the upcoming Love Never Dies, a title apparently taken from a fourteen-year-old’s fan fiction. If this show is successful, I confidently predict Miss Ho Chi Minh City, Moses and the Remains of the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and, of course, The Return of Javert.
I appreciate that theatre audiences are shrinking, that it costs a lot of money to put on a show and that most of these big theatres are anachronistically oversized hangovers from the days when theatre was the only form of visual entertainment, thus you need something that is guaranteed to be a success just to break even. Like it or not, people will go to see what they know. I don’t quite understand the point of this. I want to see something original when I go to the theatre – why spend £30 on The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert in the West End when I can get the DVD for a fiver?
So when my chum Miss M invited me to see Breakfast at Tiffany’s at the Theatre Royal Haymarket with her, I was initially dubious about the whole thing. I’ve long since stopped following what’s in the big West End venues out of despair, so I have to admit that when I first heard about this show I was expecting yet another musical-based-on-a-film. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that, in fact, it was nothing of the sort.
The film, you see, sanitises the book massively. The stage adaptation, adapted by Samuel Adamson and directed by Sean Mathias, pulls no such punches. Holly Golightly in this version is, to put it bluntly, not the sort of character Audrey Hepburn would be allowed to play in a 1960s Hollywood film. She’s a very ambiguous character – it’s never entirely clear how naive she really is. She manipulates and lies, and yet at the same time is very hard to dislike. This is at least in part down to Anna Friel’s engaging portrayal that perfectly captures the “wounded innocent” without ever descending into the kind of wangst such roles often wind up being. Much has been made of the fact that she strips off in this piece, but for Christ’s sake get over it it’s like one scene.
I think the problem with the show is that it tries to do too much. There are quite a few characters who don’t really seem to do much in the show and as a consequence come off as a little two-dimensional. For instance, while Mr O’Shaungessy and Sally Tomato are important to the story, their actual appearances could be cut out entirely without harming the show. Middy Munson and Madame Sapphia Spanella are little more than caricatures. Worst, Joseph Cross’ William Parsons, the leading man, becomes a cookie-cutter naive male lead, and in all honesty a little wet. Cross also has an irritating habit, at least in the first scene, of shouting rather than projecting.
Having said all that, I did actually enjoy the show. If I’m really honest, the weaknesses were something that I only really spotted afterwards, if that makes any sense. I found the show entertaining enough that I was quite happy to forgive its failings. Kudos to the Theatre Royal for daring to actually go against the iconic film.
Less kudos to their ushers. Miss M uses a wheelchair, and at previous shows we’ve been to, the theatre folks have been most helpful. In this case, they seemed rather bewildered by the concept of wheelchairs, despite the fact that the tickets were booked well over a month ago and it was very clearly stated that one of us was a wheelchair user. The usher who led us to our seat had no idea what to do with a powered wheelchair (too heavy to push, you see). The ones who led us out abandoned us as soon as we were outside the auditorium, and so we had an entertaining time trying to get through two sets of double doors to the street. Ever try holding two doors open while at the same time allowing a fixed wheelchair through? Thank you, undertrained theatre staff, for that novel slapstick experience.
Bonus feature: Titles for musical sequels not used above!
- Jesus Christ Superstar: The Second Coming
- Some More Cats
- Avenue R
- Starlight Replacement Bus Service