Seventy years later, the allure of Hollywood’s Golden Age is still strong. When producers vied for the most bankable faces and the Great Depression / World War II double whammy boosted the motion picture industry, the overwhelming focus on the stars and studios often ignored, or romanticised, those who slipped through the cracks. Joanne Hartstone – writer, performer, and true devotee of the era’s styles and stars – does neither. Instead, she gives us a human portrayal of a flawed but determined young woman trying to break into a system innately closed to her. The Girl Who Jumped Off the Hollywood Sign brings the glamour, dreams, and desperation of early twentieth century America – largely but not limited to the 1940s Los Angeles area – to life in a one-woman show with song, showmanship, and sympathy.
The set-up is simple; Evie Edwards, a wannabe starlet, reaches the top of the Hollywood ‘H’ and tells us – her mind, her audience – her life story and the events which lead to this drastic place. The chronology of Evie’s life against real-life events mentioned is a bit difficult to determine, but it does not detract from the overall performance. The Girl Who Jumped Off the Hollywood Sign is a very polished show otherwise, and Hartstone exudes confidence in her character and material. Her magnetism and sharp embodiments sells Evie’s humanity and the strongly defined figures – her father, the MGM lot manager, her dance instructor, the studio executives – who shape her life and choices. Hartstone further embodies the era through spot-on recreations of its song and dance; these numbers are high points.
A surprisingly brilliant touch to the piece is that some anecdotes given – such as Jean Harlow’s cause of death and the timing of Judy Garland’s second suicide attempt – are rumours that have been debunked now. Far from carelessness on the production’s part, however, they firmly root the show in its age and peoples. Evie is a young woman as immersed in the lore and legend as she is in the time and place; it is only natural she clings to the most extreme tales and tragedies of the time. That said, while rumours are by nature exaggerations, the truths beneath the surface – the sexism, greed, and lack of control Hollywood’s women were (and arguably are still) faced with – are tangible and believable as causes of Evie’s demise.
The play loses a bit of suspense and drama through the titular set-up – Evie is going to jump, and from the context it is not difficult to surmise that this is due to a show business failure and broken dreams. Additionally, the pace throughout the seventy-minute run time is uneven; there are stretches of exposition where focus wanders. These do not unduly dampen the show, but it feels that a production which has travelled across the globe to two Fringes (the Adelaide and the Hollywood, to be precise) before Edinburgh should feel a bit tighter.
On the whole, however, Hartstone’s piece is a captivating way to spend a mid-morning in Edinburgh. If looking to be starstruck, look no further.
The Girl Who Jumped Off the Hollywood Sign plays at the Assembly Roxy (venue 139) from 5-13th August and 16-28th August. All shows are at 11.30, and tickets cost £13 (£12 concessions). Two for one tickets are available on Monday 7th and Tuesday 8th August. All Fringe information and tickets can be found at https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/girl-who-jumped-off-the-hollywood-sign.
Performer: Joanne Hartstone
Writer: Joanne Hartstone
Director: Vince Fusco
Production Manager: Lucy Mitchell
Production Assistants: Alabama Nutt and Roseby Franklin
Publicist: Chris Hislop