Review: Finishing the Picture
Image: Finborough Theatre
Cast and creatives
Patrick Bailey - Terry Case
Stephen Billington - Derek Clemson
Jeremy Drakes - Paul
Nicky Goldie - Flora Fassinger
Rachel Handshaw - Edna Meyers
Oliver Le Sueur - Philip Oschner
Tony Wredden - Jerome Fassinger
"She is frightened and resentful and angry - and we've got about half an hour to cure all three"
As the women of today's Hollywood campaign for dignity and equality, Finishing the Picture is a razor sharp psychological study of an abused, misunderstood female star and the havoc her unpredictability brings to a film set in 1961.
Inspired by the filming of The Misfits, the screenplay Miller wrote for his then wife, Marilyn Monroe, and focused on the bemused and exasperated director, screen writer, producer, acting coaches and crew that closely mirror the real life production team of The Misfits.
Following his critically acclaimed, up-close reinvention of Arthur Miller's Incident at Vichy and sell-out revival of The American Clock, multi-award-winning director Phil Willmott brings the intense focus of the intimate Finborough Theatre to bear on Miller's final work, Finishing The Picture.
This UK premiere is only the play's second production anywhere in the world, following its original large-scale premiere at Chicago's Goodman Theatre in 2004, shortly before the playwright's death.
Arthur Miller's very final play is a devastating indictment of how a male-dominated movie industry inadvertently destroyed a vulnerable young woman, even as they transformed her into a screen goddess, and how they were unable to deal with the wreckage they caused.
This production has been made possible by the generous and express permission of Arthur Miller's daughter.
Judging by the packed matinee I joined to review this show, you may have to work fast to grab some tickets for this rare production of Arthur Miller's final play.
The playwright's work is still as popular as ever, but the reputation of the Finborough and a notable director, Phil Willmott, at the healm both add to the appeal.
First performed in 2004, just a few months before Arthur Miller died, this outing at the Finborough is only the second production ever of the work.
That lack of airings may well on its own have many scrambling and, possibly, begging unceremoniously for tickets.
Set in a hotel in Reno, Nevada in 1960, Finishing The Picture gives us a glimpse behind the scenes of the making of a movie.
Most of the film is in the can, but the last few, vital scenes need to be shot.
But location shooting has come to a halt because the star of the film, Kitty, has psychological problems, seemingly fuelled by drugs, and can't make it on to the set.
With costs spiralling out of control, the producers are considering terminating the film with the potential consequence that the star's career will be ruined.
The big question that this play leaves us with is just what was in Arthur Miller's mind when he penned it.
On one level, it is about the movie business in general and its exploitative treatment of women, a matter which has resurfaced recently making this a rather timely and relevant presentation.
But it can't merely be co-incidental that it parallels the shooting of The Misfits (which Miller wrote the screenplay for) and is set in the same time period.
Moreover, one of the central characters is writer, Paul, whose marriage to Kitty is not just in decline but seems to have hit rock bottom, pretty-much echoing the state of Miller's marriage to Marilyn Monroe at the time of filming The Misfits.
So, is this Arthur Miller exorcising some demons of his own?
Given the setting and characters, that proposition seems highly likely even if wider and more general issues are highlighted.
Phil Willmott has an instinctive nose for both a worthy and intriguing story and re-discovering Miller's lesser known work.
Last year, he gave us a superb version of another rarely produced Miller play, Incident at Vichy.
That too conjured up massive interest - to the surprise of the producers as it turned out - and it was deservedly given an extra run at the King's Head.
Finishing the Picture is a different beast to last year's success, but it is another spellbinder.
Like Incident, Finishing the Picture has little in the way of action - much of the time we're watching the ever desperate discussions between behind-the-camera players - producer, director, cinematographer, writer, acting coaches.
Kitty doesn't even get a look-in during the first half of the show and when her persona eventually surfaces we find the play itself moving into a more interesting and stranger gear, as Kitty is described in a novel manner - though I'm not going to spoil it by revealing it's nature.
Suffice it to say that light and sound do most of the heavy lifting, with cleverly-worked, grating jazz-based sound design from Nicola Chang and some eerie, dominating shadow work from lighting designer Rachel Sampley.
Phil Willmott's production is as polished and thoughtful as you would expect, with a first-rate ensemble who provide terrific work all-round, keeping us totally absorbed and gripped for the duration.
Tony Wredden stands out as Kitty's high-handed acting teacher, Jerome, who won't take on responsibility for anything Kitty might or might not do, even if he's being paid an astronomical per diem fee to try to cajole her onto the set.
Whatever his motive for writing this piece at the very end of his staggering career, this play nevertheless demonstrates that Arthur Miller still had a few tricks up his sleeve.
An important and inventive work with historical as well as current relevance, the rarity value of the play alone is enough to deserve a visit and a high rating.
But quality also shines through both in the keenly observed, often humorous dialogue and characters, and in Phil Willmott's authoritative production too.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Finborough Theatre
Our show listing for Finishing the Picture
Read our reviews' policy