THEATRE Misfits, Royal Exchange, Manchester

It has all the right ingredients: Gable, Huston, and bickering Arthur and Marilyn. So why is the staging of the 1960 film's traumatic birth so dire
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The craze lately has been for stage versions of films (Les Enfants du Paradis, La Dolce Vita et al). In Misfits, premiered now in a production by Gregory Hersov at the Royal Exchange, Alex Finlayson goes one step back, creating a play about the making of a movie.

To ambulance-chasers, The Misfits (shot in 1960 and released the following year) is certainly a more interesting proposition off-camera than on. There's Marilyn Monroe "so doped she doesn't know her ass from a day-old doughnut" (in the words of Finlayson's characters) and arriving on set with a lateness that would make Godot seem almost neurotically punctual. There are the protracted death throes of her marriage to the film's author, Arthur Miller, and his bitter power-struggle with her black-garbed method- acting guru, Paula Strasberg, whose idea of constructive advice on the reading of a line went something like "walk through all those little sadnesses rubbing at your ankles, calling your name".

Then there are the co-stars: Clark Gable (whom Monroe once believed to be her father) and Montgomery Clift, gay and in a state because of a recent disfiguring car accident; a volatile mix, particularly in the baking heat of the Nevada Desert. It's no wonder that the director, John Huston, took to spending his nights at the gambling tables, knocking back whiskey and losing thousands of dollars, as the film lurched to an eventual 40 days over-schedule.

Could you make a boring play from this material? Only too easily, it seems. Misfits is bitty, unaccumulative, lacks either energy or bite and leaves you wondering what it was Finlayson wanted to say through this famous story. In the final scene, set on the darkening sound-stage at the end of the shoot, Marilyn (successfully evoked by Lisa Eichhorn) tells Miller how she would have written his character, if he could have taken it. The implication is that it can be less selfish to receive and that, in his excessive concern to create the role of Roslyn for her in the movie, Miller neglected her by neglecting to want things from her. The trouble is, though, that the play never sufficiently establishes that this role was constructed as a gift or that, through it, Miller was wishfully trying to make what comes true for the character come true for his wife. This will be even less clear to those who have not seen the film or read Miller's odiously self-serving account of the period in Timebends.

Finlayson offers remarkably few fresh insights into the problem of being, or being with, Monroe and there are some terrible wallowings in cliche, especially during the scene where the star is joined in a hospital room by her former selves: a frightened little blonde girl and a pre-peroxide Norma Jean who gives her a pep talk: "Grow up. Nobody's your father or your mother. Who needs them? We got the camera." I'm ready for my sick bag, Mr De Mille.

A talented cast of 17 has been assembled for what I'm afraid has more merit as a job creation scheme than as a play.

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