That Rags to Riches Thing

BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S adapted by Richard Greenberg from the novel by Truman Capote, directed by Nicolai Foster, with Georgia May Foote, Theatre Royal, Brighton, Tuesday 25th Oct, 7.45pm.

The great thing about the new world, America and Australia for example, is the fluidity of identity. Looking back at my homeland, from the heights of Europe, society can look like one amorphous blob; a billionaire, who owns newspapers and television stations and lives in Bellevue Hill can just as easily pass as a bricklayer who owns a Holden (car) and lives in Rooty Hill. Impossible to tell them apart.

Truman Capote put his finger very accurately on this characteristic and rode its artistic potential to riches and access to the rarified levels of political and social influence, until he didn't.

Because identity isn't just a bit of fun, it's the key to wealth beyond imagining. And if you take away the potential for self re-invention, for social mobility, you take away the ability to make money, to make yourself rich.

This kind of fluidity presents its own problems to actors of course. How do you go about presenting a character, or characters, who are all about self-reinvention, considering that's what you do every day at work as an actor? How do you differentiate the characters from each other, from yourself?

One approach is to have a few characters up your sleeve, in your locker so to speak, that you can take out as required: upper class, below-stairs, businessman (or woman), unionist, bar-tender.

Bar-tender is a good example. For an American actor, or an American bar-tender, first and foremost you are an American. You can walk away from 'bar-tender' tomorrow but you are always an American. For an English actor, you take bar-tender out of your locker for the duration, and give your bar-tender performance. Bar-tender is the fact, American is the context.

Capote, in turning this on its head, created a new kind of literary genre, fictional non-fiction. The effect is more important than the facts. The facts are secondary. You make of them what you will, over-ride them, rise above them, transcend them, but don't try to hide or ignore them. They are there to be eclipsed, dominated, they don't define you, you define them.

Holly Golightly is loved because she defines herself, in spite of the facts. Nothing stands in her way, she will be what she wills herself to be. She's a 'real phoney', in OJ Berman, the Hollywood agent's, description. This is the highest compliment he can pay. Her 'phoniness' is on display for all to see.

The essence of being an American, the definition of the freedom of the New World, is the freedom to be whatever you want to be. Take away that freedom, as the 'East Coast Elites' seem to want to do (you want that job? you need a degree from Harvard, you want to be in Congress? You need to be the friends of Bankers) and you take away the core of what it is to be American.

Self-reinvention can be pretty exhausting of course, the rags to riches thing can start to be a bit of a drag. In Blake Edwards' film, Audrey Hepburn as Holly succumbs in the end and 'becomes' a lover. A happy ending is the way to box office success in this case. Capote's Holly doesn't succumb, she fights on, an almost mythic hero to those she has left behind.

All this can throw up some interesting moral contradictions. Like telling the truth, for example. Like seeing wealth as an end that excuses any and all means, including being whatever other people want you to be, which can result in your being called some pretty unpleasant names.

Capote's original novella doesn't shirk the dark side, which is why it's a very good thing to see a faithful stage adaptation, particularly given the uncertain state of American politics currently.

Capote's novel is unarguably one of the great literary masterpieces of the post-war period, American or otherwise, which makes it very interesting that this seminal character, Holly Golightly, who has done more to elevate the Tiffany's brand than any number of sparkling tiaras could do, should be played by an actress who is described in the programme as 'making her theatrical debut'.

And yet it turns out this is exactly right, Georgia May Foote is re-inventing herself precisely as Holly does. Why shouldn't she play this role? In fact, someone with an impeccable stage experience would probably make a complete hash of it.

She is fragile, vulnerable, unflappable, irrepressible, both as the character and as herself, soldiering on no matter what's thrown at her, a mixture of innocence and determination, probably only now starting to grasp what she's actually taken on but not letting it show.

In fact the whole production tends to hit just the right note, a combination of Edward Hopper and good old fashioned musical theatre, which somehow never manages to define, or limit, what the performers achieve.

Paul Corcoran