Who: Hartstone-Kitney Productions
Where: Black Box Theatre – Adelaide Botanic Gardens
When: 20-23 Feb
Tickets: $30 here
It’s a familiar story – an aspiring star travels to Hollywood with dreams of making it big, only to be crushed by the harsh reality of a superficial, cutthroat industry. In The Girl Who Jumped off the Hollywood Sign, the marvellous performer Joanne Hartstone manages to make this tale seem fresh and compelling again with an expert mix of black comedy and tragedy.
Hartstone plays Evelyn ‘Evie’ Edwards, a girl entranced by the escapism of the silver screen as she grows up in the throes of the Great Depression. The glamour of Jean Harlow and Judy Garland gives her a dream to cling to in the midst of poverty, so she moves to Los Angeles and tries desperately to get her foot in the studio door. Perched precariously on top of the ‘H’ of the Hollywood sign, Hartstone oscillates between sweet screen-ready femininity and genuine despair as she explains why Evie is about to jump. Hartstone is a formidable actress with an incredible stage presence and ability to engage an audience. She carried the show alone for 70 minutes and I never once felt my attention wander – Hartstone is captivating all the way through.
I was pleasantly surprised by Hartstone’s beautiful singing voice. She expertly emulates the style and timbre of singers in the 1940s as she breaks into songs from the era. “Nobody wants you when you’re down and out”, she delicately warbles, like she’s stepped right out of a Depression-era musical. Those who love the aesthetics of classic Hollywood will especially enjoy the show (and hopefully get all the era-specific references, too).
Evie is told she’s too plain, too short, too unnoticeable to be a leading lady. However, Hollywood also teaches Evie the terrible price paid by the women who do succeed in the industry. Is it any wonder, Evie asks, that Judy Garland had a breakdown on set, when between the diets, drugs, and gruelling workloads the studios took so much from her that she had nothing left to give? The show is a stark exploration of how women are moulded and sold as commodities, and the suffering they endure as a result. However, the charm and tongue-in-cheek humour sprinkled throughout thankfully keeps the show from feeling too heavy.
Though undeniably a period piece, The Girl Who Jumped off the Hollywood Sign has relevance in an era that is now defined by the Facetuned glamour of a curated Instagram feed and the gruelling regimes of global K-pop stars. Dreams and illusions are still bought and sold while we try to bury the painful realities they sometimes hide. The Girl Who Jumped off the Hollywood Sign is a poignant reminder, a tribute to both the alluring and ugly sides of the Golden Age of Hollywood and its legacy.