Joanne Hartstone’s one-woman show is a brilliant send up to classic Golden Age Hollywood that keeps the glitz and glamour of the period whilst showing the grimy and exploitative underbelly that lurks just beneath the surface.
Writer/performer Hartstone is able to breath new life into this story.
The Girl Who Jumped Off The Hollywood Sign opens on a dark smoky night, with a woman clinging to the iconic H of the Hollywood sign, ready to jump. She begins to regale the audience with the story of her life, from humble origins in the dust bowls of the great depression to the blinding lights of the Golden Age of Hollywood where fame seems so close yet always seeming to slip through her grasp.
The story of the young starstruck starlet seeking fame and fortune only to be rebuffed and exploited by a cynical entertainment industry is hardly a new one, and it is apt to fall into tired genre cliches if not properly handled. It is impressive here then that writer/performer Hartstone is able to breath new life into this story. As an actress she brings an infectious old school charm to the role which resonates instantly with the audience, and put me in mind of classic Hollywood legends like Bette Davis or Judy Garland at their prime. She also sports an impressive singing voice and is able to sing and dance across the stage with superb bravado and flair, weaving each musical number into the piece so it resonated perfectly with the emotions of the story.
As a writer Hartstone’s script is nuanced and multi-facilitated. It has a refreshing honesty regarding its subject matter, and the attention to detail and clear research involved makes us feel immersed in the time period, as if we stepped through a door to find ourselves in the Hollywood Canteen with the likes of Carrie Grant and Joan Crawford just like our narrator. This is aided by the script's unflinching commitment to showing the uglier side of stardom, the exploitation, pain and factory-like conditions that pumped out stars to be used then discarded by an industry that only cared about the bottom line and not the people it crushed to make a profit.
The script, however, does falter here and there. Certain emotional jumps in the story feel rushed or out of place, and the narrative would benefit from a more robust character study of our protagonist that really examined her need for fame and recognition, and what needs to be said about society at that time and even today. Yet these issues are never allowed to de-rail the otherwise stellar production, and Hartstone is able to draw us back in with the deep emotional core of the story that had me welling up in tears at the more harrowing parts.
I must admit I left the theatre pleasantly surprised and deeply touched by this production, and this story of heartbreak, love, and the innate human desire for recognition is definitely one worth your time seeing this Festival.