Okay. If you read no further, this is the takeaway. Phil Wilmott’s revival of Arthur Miller’s Finishing the Picture, currently at the Finborough Theatre, is a very good production of a very boring play. There. I’ve said it. I’m sorry, Arthur.
Finishing the Picture is Miller’s thinly disguised account of his time spent filming the 1960 film Misfits with his then-wife Marilyn Monroe in a desert in Nevada. In the play, Marilyn becomes Kitty, an omnipresent but never actually present figure who haunts every discussion and every decision made by the film makers.
Kitty is never shown, represented instead by the clever sound design (Nicola Chang) and lighting (Rachel Sampley – the 4/5 female creative team behind the play is a noteworthy achievement itself.) By reducing Kitty to a bundle of rumours, compliments and decisions, Miller makes an important point about the agency and abuse of young, beautiful actresses – one which feels all too relevant in the age of #metoo.
Wilmott has assembled a strong cast; the men are all good, but the women deliver by far the most memorable performances. Rachel Handshaw is endearing as Kitty’s shy and long-suffering personal assistant Edna, and Nicky Goldie is pleasingly insufferable as her coach Flora.
No, the problem is not in the acting, nor the direction – which is assured and thought-provoking – nor the set (Isabella Van Braeckel has managed to capture the oft-referenced forest fires in the very walls of the theatre, creating a blood-red, claustrophobic atmosphere). The problem is that the play itself is a little less than riveting. The dialogue is endlessly circular, and the stakes just aren’t high enough to justify nearly two hours of theatre. There’s more than a whiff of self-indulgence in the scenes dissecting the relationship between Kitty and her husband Paul (Miller’s unflattering self-portrait, played here by Jeremy Drakes). Cast and creative team are on fine form here but Arthur? Come on, you can do better.