Arthur Miller's Final Play Fails To Illuminate

Finishing the Picture, Finborough Theatre ★★☆☆☆

By Neil Dowden Last edited 73 months ago

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Last Updated 18 June 2018

Arthur Miller's Final Play Fails To Illuminate Finishing the Picture, Finborough Theatre 2
Photo: Scott Rylander

Arthur Miller’s last play, Finishing the Picture, is inspired by the problematic filming of The Misfits in 1960. Although the characters are named differently, it is clear that the screenwriter is a (rather unflattering) self-portrait and the (here unseen) star is based on Marilyn Monroe just as their marriage was breaking up, while there are also lampoons of director John Huston and method acting coaches Lee and Paula Strasberg. It’s a fascinating subject that only flickers fitfully into life.

In the first half, members of the production are in crisis talks over the threat of the film being closed down, due to the unreliable behaviour of actress Kitty, dependent on booze and pills, which is sending the shoot well over budget and schedule. It’s all very static with clunky dialogue that the cast fail to make convincing.

Photo: Scott Rylander

The second half is an improvement as individually they try to rouse Kitty out of her lethargy, spotlit in a sequence of dramatic monologues accompanied by Nicola Chang’s discordantly syncopated cymbal sound design.

It’s an interesting decision Miller made not to give Kitty herself a voice, but to show how those around her project on to this blank screen their own preoccupations and prejudices. The trouble is, we end up with very little idea of why Kitty is having a breakdown. In his programme note, director Phil Willmott alludes to the Weinstein scandal and #MeToo movement, but sexual abuse of women in Hollywood doesn’t really feature in the play — even if it is implied that Kitty is regarded as a commodity.

Photo: Scott Rylander

After a long, tremendous career, it feels like Miller’s decision to obliquely revisit his relationship with Monroe is an attempt at closure of a very painful episode in his life. The year after The Misfits was released, Monroe committed suicide aged 36.

Finishing the Picture, Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, Sw10 9ED. Tickets £20, until 7 July 2018.