It’s a twee, nostalgic tale of a girl who can’t get a job as an actress and contemplates suicide. The Girl Who Jumped Off The Hollywood Sign is Peg Entwhistle, not Joanne Hartstone’s character. But Hartstone finds herself in the same spot only a few years later – parents gone and no job prospects, a Southern Belle too far away from home.
Hartstone is a competent narrator with a story that starts at the end before flashing back to the reasoning. It’s classic Hollywood, just the environment that Hartstone is trying to break into. But the bright lights and fast pace on the film lots puts you on top one minute and rock bottom the next. Hartstone’s character unfortunately never even makes it to the top.
The story is predictably interspersed with songs, Hartstone’s classic vibrato softly warbling out across the stage. When she moves away from accompaniment into a cappella, the mood subtly shifts – gone are her hopes and dreams, replaced instead by a sinister desperation as she sinks to her lowest point in an attempt to be noticed. The culmination of a make-or-break interview balances her sanity on a knife-edge, a fragile performance that condenses all the preceding moments into one defining scene. The slow build on this production is well-judged and leaves the audience in abject sympathy for her plight.
Hartstone’s skill as storyteller lies in the believability she provides when conjuring up the ancillary characters. Accents and details are thrown in to add colour and paint a picture of the heady allure of the period – even in a time of war, the Hollywood Canteen seems the place to be, overflowing with celebrities and soldiers. Except Hartstone peels back the curtain and reveals the nightmare underneath, an existence made of depression and pills. Her recollection of Judy Garland’s on-set breakdown is particularly emotional to hear.
Did Hartstone jump? Everything points to it – nice girls finish last and Hartstone is so naively innocent that it’s hard to believe she isn’t instantly eaten by the Hollywood monster. The Girl Who Jumped Off The Hollywood Sign gives the aroma of a golden age, which on closer inspection is heavily tarnished.
The Girl Who Jumped Off The Hollywood Sign plays Assembly Roxy until 28 August 2017. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the website.