Review by Taylor Kendal
Who would have known that a play set in the 1940s, inspired by a real-life tragedy, would be so incredibly relatable in these times? Clearly, Joanne Hartstone did, as she brings us The Girl Who Jumped Off the Hollywood Sign.
Audiences are immediately transported to yesteryear with radio static, the crooning of As time Goes By and a busy city street soundscape full of voices, automobiles and jazz; a beautiful symphony that creates the image of every day life in 1940s Los Angeles with such ease.
Like so many in America at the time, Evelyn ‘Evie’ Edwards dreamed of being in the movies; captivated with the idea personified by so many of her idols, like Jean Harlow and Judy Garland, and wanting to be seen and be the it girl on the silver screen, after so many years seeking solace in the movie house. Instead, she finds herself standing on top of the capital H of the Hollywood sign, something that has become synonymous itself with the dreams of so many. For 70 minutes, Evie takes us back through her life, and the events that lead her to standing up the top of the sign, about to make a very final choice. Growing up motherless with her father in a Hooverville in St. Louis, to making it out to Los Angeles and getting a chance to work for MGM and her drive to make it to the top – and making it to an entirely different top. “I wrote my name down, so the press would spell it right.”
Hartstone is a natural storyteller. She breathes life into this character that so many could identify with both then and even now. A gifted actress, her accent, the quintessential American, almost Transatlantic-esque tone that was popular in the day never falters, and with her grace and embodiment of the character, brings Evie Edwards to life. While the emotion conveyed throughout the performance is wonderful, there are moments that can be a little jarring, from Evie’s breakdown of the direction her life has gone to the shiny optimism of a girl wanting to make it big in Hollywood, particularly when recounting memories. Overall, Hartstone’s depth and connection to the character is a driving force in conveying some of the most heart wrenching moment’s in what was an undoubtedly difficult life for a young woman; some so painfully familiar in so many ways.
What undoubtedly steals the show, in my humble opinion, however, is the voice. Hartstone has an incredible singing voice, melodic with a Vaudeville-blues style to it, very reminiscent of the late great Judy Garland, and her renditions of songs such as Nobody Knows You and But Not For Me are flawless in their delivery and execution, especially bathed in a blue glow of light.
A very well researched script by Hartstone does wonders bringing the audience into the decade. He parallels with the current Hollywood climate and the #MeToo movement, as well as the real life tragedy of Peg Entwhistle, who jumped to her death of the sign after a failed chance in Hollywood. As a fan myself of that fantastical and overly romanticised time, I too found myself lost in the façade of glamour that the ‘Golden Age of Hollywood’ conveyed on the outside, and the heartbreaking truths and harsh realities that we, and Evie, discover along the way; ‘Nobody in Hollywood is ever irreplaceable. There’s always some actress standing in the wings ready to take your place.’ These truths are as painful and real right now as they were then, with the realization that there is such a huge price to pay to make your dreams come true, and a lot of the action mirrors the current state of Hollywood today. Painful, yet beautifully nuanced.
Recognition must also go to Tom Kitney’s design and direction. A simple set and staging with some absolutely stunning lighting effects that really transported back to the 1940s, and following Evie’s emotional rollercoaster journey.
The Girl Who Jumped Off the Hollywood Sign is a story of a young woman who’s dreams and fears could have – and have been – felt by so many throughout the ages, rife with pure emotion and devastating realisation, wrapped up so neatly with an incredible talent.