Stephen King's novel, "Misery," inspired a hit movie in 1990 in which Kathy Bates won an Academy Award for breaking James Caan's ankles.

      Now the thriller about a murderous fan united with her beloved romance novelist has just opened on the West End stage. Scared by the movie? Just wait, say its participants, for the play."It's much more grueling," said Sharon Gless, who is making her British stage debut as the obsessive Annie.

      The theater version opened Dec. 17 at the Criterion Theater.

      Scottish actor Bill Paterson plays the hapless writer, Paul.

      "In the movie, she breaks his ankles. In the book, she chops off his foot with an ax," said Gless. "We're doing the book. It's much sicker."

      While Rob Reiner's movie focused on Caan and Bates, its stalwart supporting cast included Lauren Bacall, Richard Farns-worth and Frances Stern-hagen. Simon Moore's two-character stage adaptation is by necessity more focused.

      It's closer, too, to author King's original hunches.

      "I was surprised when `Misery' was a movie and had always thought, `if anything it's a play,' " King said by telephone form his office in Bangor, Maine. "It's a two-act, one-set moneymaker. The question is, `Does anyone really want to see it now that it's been a movie?"

      Co-producer Andrew Welch hopes so. Budgeted at just over $315,000, "Misery" must play to at least 45 percent capacity in the 594-seat theater to break even.

      Britain's previous King stage adaptation, the musical of his novel "Carrie," was a fiasco. It premiered in Stratford-Upon-Avon in 1988 and went on to lose $7 million on Broadway.

      "It died like one of those cartoon characters that goes screeching into the wall," King recalled.

      With "Misery," its creators have gone back to the novel, not the film, hoping to restore the balance between Annie and Paul, which they feel was slanted in the movie.

      Simon Moore, who wrote the stage script, said his version is a play about two people, while the film was more "a piece about one person and her victim."

      Moore said the film was "pretty much played as a straight horror thing about a conventional action hero who's suddenly disabled."

      The play, he said, is "about somebody's fall from grace."

      "Simon has been able to turn the focus away from the crazy and back to the writer," said King.

      The play is only the second stage appearance of Gless, better-known for her starring roles in the CBS-TV series, "Cagney and Lacey" and "The Trials of Rosie O'Neill."

      Two years ago, she appeared in a stage production of Lillian Hellman's "Watch on the Rhine" in Springfield, Mass.

      "I didn't think I'd ever see me on the London stage," she said, speaking one morning before rehearsal.

      What persuaded her? Having recently put on 7 to 10 pounds, she was thrilled to find a character who doesn't have to be svelte.

      "I thought, `Why do all women have to be thin?' And the next day the letter came from the Carnival Theater people (the producers)," she said. "It was a little metaphysical."

      What about the pet pig, so essential a part of Bates' screen performance?

      "There are no livestock on stage," replied Gless. "I've got to do it on my own."