BWW Review: FINISHING THE PICTURE, Finborough Theatre
The summer and fall of 1960 saw Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller struggle with a deteriorating marriage on set of The Misfits. Her crippling drug abuse and illicit affairs with her co-stars lead the two to divorce officially right before the film's premiere in 1961.
Produced for the first time on a main stage in Chicago in 2004, only months before Miller's death, Finishing The Picture is an autobiographical recount of those months in Nevada. The playwright's summary of a production on the verge of being shut down because of its problematic star and the blatant exploitation of Marilyn paint a brutal picture of the film industry.
The links to the current affairs of the entertainment business resound loud and clear in Phil Willmott's production. The old boys' club at the helm of the fictional production (Stephen Billington as the director, Patrick Bailey as the cinematographer, and Oliver Le Sueur as the producer) speak of the actress, Kitty, as an object with no opinions.
They have the power to end her career but her presence is vital for their project, therefore they need her. Miller's own less-than-affectionate shadow, Paul (Jeremy Drakes), becomes a meek witness to the disaster that's the filming of his script.
He sees all these men handling his wife as if she's not human, and as much as he'd love to help her to get better, their relationship is too far gone for him to do so. None of the surrounding characters recognise that Kitty's issues have been caused by them and do nothing but try to keep the biggest and most troubled actress in line, despite her crystalline cries for help.
The cohesive group of actors deliver strong performances from start to finish. Nicky Goldie becomes the bearer of sharp comedy as acting coach Flora Fassinger; her funnily exasperating head-to-heads with Le Sueur lighten the mood in this heavy critique of the politics of film. The Le Sueur-Billington-Bailey triangle is chilling to watch: their portrayal of Hollywood power is staggering, and Miller's script is as timely as ever with their delivery under Willmott's direction.
The latter ties Finishing The Picture into a finely detailed show. He surrounds the action with Isabella Van Braeckel's set design, with blood red walls enveloping the characters as they try to coerce Kitty out of her room and back to work. The ultimate elevation of the show comes in the shape of sound designer Nicola Chang, who sets the second act to a jazz tune.
It's in this second part that the play truly and completely comes into itself: one by one, the characters have one-sided conversations with Kitty, who comes to life in the audience's imagination also thanks to Chang's driving cymbals.
A jarring peek into the ugly truth behind the idealisation of film stars opposed to the reality of the profession, Miller's final play becomes of momentous meaning in the aftermath of the Weinstein Scandal.
Photo credit: Scott Rylander