DIRECTOR Phil Wilmott has done it again – turning one of Arthur Miller’s lesser known plays from gold into theatrical magic.
Last time, at the Finborough Theatre, it was Wilmott’s interpretation of Miller’s Incident At Vichy that won all the accolades – a claustrophobic account of 17 gentlemen held in detention in Vichy France 1942, awaiting their fate (read our review). A play that then successfully transferred to the King’s Head Theatre in Islington.
The time before, back in 2012, it was The American Clock – again at the Finborough – an account of life post the Great Depression of 1929.
Now, he has triumphed a third time with Miller’s final play, Finishing the Picture – based loosely around the shooting of 1961 film Misfits. A film that starred his wife Marilyn Monroe, deeply troubled at the time by a lethal cocktail of depression, barbiturate misuse and marital failure.
It is a super production given great relevance by the current drive in Hollywood and the film industry generally for greater equality and an end to the abhorrent behaviour of the likes of Harvey Weinstein. Every character has an ego the size of the Grand Canyon.
Some are outrageously sexist. All are only interested in themselves. While everyone wants Kitty (Marilyn Monroe) – never seen nor heard – to leave her hotel room and complete the film, no one really cares about her. Me, me, me – rather than me too.
The first act is interesting as we are introduced to all the characters and the excess baggage they carry around with them as chips on their shoulders. There is producer Philip Oschner (Oliver Le Sueur) who is under pressure from his bosses to save a film that has spiralled horribly over budget. The trouble is that Oschner’s success has been in trucks, not films. It is a fact that most of the other characters refuse to let go.
Film director is Derek Clemson (Stephen Billington). He is as tall as the Eiffel Tower and dressed smartly in his safari suit (the film is being shot in the heat and fires of Nevada) and cravat (white spots on a blue background). Yet Clemson has his gremlins – a liking for gambling dens and ancient artefacts from Columbia Mexico. He is also precious about his work, having little time for the many hangers on that crowd him.
Cinematographer is Terry Case (a marvellous Patrick Bailey) who has just struck gold – well oil – as a result of a drilling rig he has invested in finding the black stuff. He sees life purely through the prism of his lens – and his belief is that nothing photographs better than an attractive arse.
Completing the cast are Flora and Jerome Fassinger (advisers to Kitty and played masterfully by Nicky Goldie and Tony Wredden respectively), Edna (Rachel Handshaw) who has just had a one night stand with Oschner and Paul, Kitty’s husband (Jeremy Drakes). Flora is catty and demanding, requiring ever more luxurious accommodation and chauffeur driven cars. Jerome is pompous but as Kitty’s ‘coach’ the only one who can really get through to her. Paul seems to be overshadowed by all and everyone – enduring conversations about his wife as if he is not on the room.
But it is the second act that lifts this play from the interesting to the superlative. Aided by an effective musical backdrop largely featuring a repetitive cymbal (Nicola Chang) and superb lighting (Rachel Sampley), we witness the various characters come to Kitty’s room and try and persuade her to save the film – by taking a week’s recuperation. Each character has the spotlight shone on them. All we hear is one half of the conversations. It is brilliantly done and it works. Will she? Won’t she? Thrilling theatre.
There is not a weak spot in this production with some lovely costume touches provided by Penn O’Gara – Clemson’s garish outfit and the various watches that the batty catty and scatty Flora hangs around her neck.
The cast is exceptional with Bailey and Goldie excelling. A transfer to the West End surely beckons.
Finishing The Picture runs until July 7.
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