Saturday 3 December 2016

Can Holly Golightly win over Generation Twitter?

A new version of 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' is Dublin-bound, with pop princess Pixie Lott in the iconic Audrey Hepburn role. Will her fan base put down their phones to buy a theatre ticket

Published 28/05/2016 | 07:00

What about 'Breakfast at Tiffany's?': Pixie Lott takes to the stage as Holly Golightly in a new production of the iconic film Photo: Uli Webert.
What about 'Breakfast at Tiffany's?': Pixie Lott takes to the stage as Holly Golightly in a new production of the iconic film Photo: Uli Webert.
Pixie Lott in 'Breakfast at Tiffany's stage production.
Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in the 1961 film.

Pixie Lott and 'Breakfast At Tiffany's' are not an obvious match. Lott is a thoroughly modern pop star, with 1.7 million Twitter followers and a mantelpiece heaving with Brit Awards. 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' is Audrey Hepburn looking utterly 50s in a black Givenchy dress, cigarette holder dangling from her lips. What next? Jedward in 'Death of A Salesman?' (ssssh - let's not give Jedward ideas).

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In a new stage adaptation of 'Tiffany's', Lott takes on the daunting Hepburn mantle as Holly Golightly, a naive young thing in the big city casting a spell over every man she meets. But can this fusty piece of pop culture - a movie poster with a film attached, really - appeal to Generation Snapchat? And is Lott - an A-lister to be sure, but not exactly Beyonce - the person to win the kids over?

Talking to her, it's clear she is up for the challenge. Thanks to 'X Factor', there's a tendency to think of pop stars as desperate-to-be-liked strivers. Lott is nothing like that. She is a hard-boiled composite of self-belief, ambition and pantomime sparkle and she has never failed at anything in her life.

Aged 13, she saw off hundreds of other hopefuls to bag a lead role in a West End production of 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang'; just five years later, the Londoner topped the charts with her debut single 'Mama Do (Uh Oh, Uh Oh)'.

"You should only get into the business if you can't imagine doing anything else," she tells me. "If you're half-hearted or enjoy it but aren't quite sure if it's for you, don't go for it. It's a tough business. You should only go for it if you're 100pc determined to get ahead."

Her will to win has surely proved useful since she began her run as Holly Golightly. This new telling of the story, by New York playwright Richard Greenberg, has an exceedingly chequered history. It was panned during its original stretch on Broadway in 2013, with 'Game of Thrones'' Emilia Clarke (aka Mother of Dragons Daenerys) in the Hepburn role.

Actually "panned" is an understatement. Critics more or less roasted the production on a spit, with particular vitriol directed at the unfortunate Clarke. Her performance was dismissed as self-regarding, light-weight and irritatingly frothy.

She had captured Holly Golightly's girl scout effervescence but could not locate the darker ambitions that compelled the character to leave small town Texas and chase her destiny in glittering Manhattan.

"Ms Clarke comes across as an under-age débutante trying very, very hard to pass for a sophisticated grown-up," lamented the 'New York Times'. "This makes Holly's whimsy go soggy."

"Clarke plays her romantic view of Holly, which can come off as actress-y self love - or insecurity," added 'The New Yorker'. Ouch. The Mother of Dragons had received the mother of all drubbings.

Three years and one journey across the Atlantic later, Greenberg's 'Tiffany's' has been fine tuned, presumably in an attempt to appeal to contemporary audiences. The biggest change is casting with the brunette Clarke replaced by the peroxide Lott.

One element that has been preserved, however, is the incorporation of music. In what could be interpreted as a bid to win over the 'Britain's Got Talent' demographic, the new 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' features live singing with Holly Golightly pluckily bashing out tunes on an acoustic guitar.

This was surely a challenge for Clarke, an actress rather than a vocalist by training. But you suspect it came more naturally to a professional pop star such as Lott (even if she was required to take guitar lessons). In any event she isn't troubled by whether anyone approves or not of her performance (the notices have been generally positive).

One of the earliest lessons she picked up as a celebrity was to never read about yourself on the internet. That way lies a pounding headache and tears at bedtime.

"If you are reading something negative it is not going to have a positive impact on your brain," she says. "One thing I've learned is to stay clear of the comments. The internet is getting out of control. I've made a pact with myself to never read comments. People can be so mean."

Ultimately, the commercial and artistic fate of the play hinges on whether this tale of a young lady burning brightly in the big city can speak to 21st-century theatre-goers.

After all, to anyone under the age of 40, 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' is a painful pop song by 'Deep Blue Something', rather than an iconic movie and novel.

Lott believes it can. 'Tiffany's 2.0' reclaims the darker elements of Holly Golightly's story, restoring the shadows at the edges of her perky smile. At a technical level it also appeals our contemporary love of spectacle, with the aforementioned music numbers and endless costume changes.

She genuinely identifies with Holly Golightly's determination to get ahead, too. Lott has been a whirlwind of blonde ambition for as long as she can remember. Even as a young child she was resolved to break into "the industry". "I went to theatre school, practiced constantly and at weekends was going to auditions the entire time. I always knew what I wanted.

"To an extent, it made my life simple. I had a target and I aimed for it. Some of my friends still aren't quite sure what they should be doing."

In a way, Lott feels she doesn't have to compete with the 1961 Hepburn movie. The new play essentially pretends the film doesn't exist. Instead, it is based on the original 1958 novella by Truman Capote, a far harsher affair which implies, but never says out loud, that Holly is a high-class escort turning a tidy living dazzling wealthy older men.

"I've seen the movie obviously but purposefully didn't go back and watch it," says Lott.

"I wanted to create my own version. People think Holly has dark hair but in the book she's blonde, like me. In fact, Capote didn't want Audrey Hepburn to play her. He was keen on Marilyn Monroe. I feel a lot of affinity with the character. There's the hair, the husky voice… all of that."

'Breakfast at Tiffany's' runs at BGE Theatre, Dublin June 13 - 18

Irish Independent

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