BWW Blog: Nikolai Foster On Directing BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S
I first met producer Colin Ingram shortly after taking up my role as Artistic Director at Curve in Leicester. Colin and I were meeting to discuss a musical project, but by the end of our meeting, the discussion had moved on from the musical and towards Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's. Colin had produced a version of the novel a few years back and was keen to revisit Capote's extraordinary world in an entirely new production.
At Curve, Chief Exec Chris (Stafford) and I were keen to produce drama in the 900-seat theatre during our first year at the venue. There hadn't been a home-produced drama in our larger space for six years, with plays normally produced in the smaller 300-seat Studio. This is essentially a story about two young people finding their way in a complex and rapidly changing world, against the backdrop of America's entry into World War II; Capote's sensitive character study, alongside this polemic, meant Breakfast at Tiffany's was the perfect play to realise this ambition to produce epic plays in our vast auditorium.
We set about finding an astonishing leading actor to play the iconic role of Holly Golightly. Highly intelligent, emotionally immature, headstrong and hugely imaginative. This character is complex and would require an actress of exceptional range. We were privileged to meet some exceptional actors for the role, however nobody dazzled and illuminated the room in quite the same way as Pixie Lott.
Pixie has that rare thing - proper old-school star quality, matched with humility and fantastic natural instincts. As Pixie had never approached a role like this before, every day in rehearsals was a brand-new learning experience for her. With a child's innocence, Pixie set about creating her Holly, her courage, chutzpah and natural instincts leading her to discover things in this role I could never have imagined.
One of the truly magical things about the novel is the smorgasbord of extraordinary characters Capote presents to the reader; it's like travelling back in a time machine and being dropped into the heart of NYC cafe society. Alongside Pixie and Matt, it has been hugely inspiring to work with such an accomplished group of actors, who have created this world with such love, sense of mischief and wonder. The people Capote depicts might sometimes appear fantastical on first reading, but were originally based on real people. Therefore, the starting point in rehearsals was always truth, discovering the heart of who they are.
It has been interesting presenting our production first in Leicester, on tour and now in the West End. At Curve it was clear many audience members were expecting either to see a musical or a direct replication of the film on stage. They got neither, and it is testament to the quality of Richard Greenberg's adaptation and the actors that audiences stuck with us in those early days and supported the production so enthusiastically, helping to shape and inform our choices going forward.
Greenberg has been incredibly gracious throughout the process, giving us permission to edit and reshape scenes and the structure of the piece as necessary. It's a tightly packed adaptation, episodic in style, which sticks closely to the novella. At times we needed to strip it back and release the stage version from the delicate intensity of the original.
Our designer, Matthew Wright, has done a fantastic job creating the New York locations Truman Capote vividly describes in the novella. Greenberg offers around 50 scenes, often cutting quickly from one location to another. Although we wanted to honour the poetry and dreamlike qualities of the novella, we were keen to create an environment that celebrated the City and offered the audience a literal sense of place.
It is a considerable challenge making the production expand and contract to fit in a wide range of touring venues around the country. The Haymarket theatre has to be one of the most beautiful examples of playhouse anywhere in the world, and we are thrilled the production fits so perfectly into this space. Having played some epic theatres across the country, the actors are really enjoying the intimacy and relationship they are able to have with audiences in this smaller theatre.
Although our production is based on the novella and not Blake Edwards' 1960s film, we were keen to recreate one iconic moment from the movie. Holly's confident exterior masks a more complex and darker inner life; her childhood was blighted by sexual abuse and poverty. During her early years she would run away from home, seeking sanctuary. The downtrodden waif from Tulip, Texas eventually ended up in Hollywood, where she was transformed into the character we recognise. A song like "Moon River" offers an insight into Holly's most private thoughts - her vulnerability and loneliness.
Furthermore, Grant Olding wrote a beautiful song called "Dying Day", where Holly investigates her relationship to her mother. Like "Moon River", this song offers a blistering insight into Holly's past, which the other characters do not see and Fred can only imagine.
Just as Capote's novella is a hymn to cafe society, New York City and the literary greats of the last half of the last century, Greenberg's play is an homage to Truman Capote and the beautiful world he created. Like the novel, we hope our production will feel like being in a dream, where snapshots of these characters' lives flow effortlessly in and out of focus.
Breakfast at Tiffany's is at Theatre Royal Haymarket until 17 September
Picture credit: Sean Ebsworth