Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Theatre review: Finishing the Picture

Arthur Miller must have spent half his life being asked to write about Marilyn Monroe, and in his final play he did. Finishing the Picture may take place on the set of an unnamed 1961 film with fictional creatives, but there’s little question what the inspiration is: The film is the famously troubled The Misfits, the safari-suited director Derek (Stephen Billington) is John Huston, and the screenwriter Paul (Jeremy Drakes,) married to the unpredictable leading lady, is Miller himself. We never see Kitty, the film’s star, but she’s all anyone talks about. The production is nearing the end of its filming schedule – and budget – and the new producer, Philip (Oliver Le Sueur,) has flown in to see what’s holding up the final scenes. These all require Kitty, but she refuses to leave her trailer; even on the rare occasions she’s attempted to perform, the camera’s easily picked up how heavily sedated she is so the footage is unusable.

Philip is tasked with coming up with a plan to save the company’s investment, whether by putting off filming by a week so that Kitty can spend time in rehab, or – the nuclear option – pulling the plug and claiming the insurance, which would make Kitty uninsurable and end her career.


Of course the ideal would be for her to get out of bed, stay sober and get on with filming right away, and the second act largely consists of the endless stream of people turning up at her door trying to cajole her on-set. Phil Willmott’s is only the second-ever production since the play premiered in 2004, which with a writer as popular as Miller is never the most encouraging sign, but although it’s no classic I wouldn’t quite call Finishing the Picture a dud. I found both acts of about equal interest although Ian was completely put off the second by the insistent cymbals backing the scene of everyone lining up to talk to Kitty (the production suffers in general from TOO MUCH JAZZ, the riff on “Greensleeves” that plays on an endless loop before the show starts is enough to test anyone’s sanity.)


Tying the production into the #MeToo movement, the Finborough has called it “a razor sharp psychological study of an abused, misunderstood female star,” which is perhaps a bit generous to Miller, whose play still comes with an element of misogyny despite the acknowledgement that Kitty’s problems stem from everything she’s had to overcome. Only Rachel Handshaw’s Edna comes across particularly well out of the stream of hangers-on profiting from Kitty, and as her assistant even she’s dependent on the star for her paycheck. Ironically the next most sympathetic is the money-man, Philip seeming to genuinely care about Kitty’s wellbeing, although this comes with a catch – as the newcomer to the movie business he doesn’t really know the actress herself, and has only fallen for the version of her on screen. One to file under Miller apocrypha rather than essential.

Finishing the Picture by Arthur Miller is booking until the 7th of July at the Finborough Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes including interval.

Photo credit: Scott Rylander.

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