Evie, born Evelyn Margaret Edwards in 1925, is a picture of vintage perfection. She’s ready for her big moment in a figure-skimming black dress set off by cascading auburn hair, a flawless complexion and immaculately applied red lipstick.

She seems determined to take the plunge, but first she’s compelled to help us understand how she got here. In The Girl Who Jumped Off the Hollywood Sign, Adelaide writer and performer Joanne Hartstone plays “the girl” (Evie), as well as multiple other characters in a solo work that brings to life the often-sordid world of the movie industry and the struggles of those young women who were drawn to it.

As she drops the names of her idols (Theda Bara, Billie Holiday, Judy Garland, Clara Bow, Jean Harlow and Bette Davis), Evie recounts the exotic stories that hid the mundane realities of life in a business where “there will always be another actress waiting at the wings to take your place”.

Grasping her purse and clambering through and around the top half of a giant letter H, she lets us in on her difficult early life via emotion-filled recollections. Childhood tragedy and the failing economy meant hard times for a father and daughter trying to get ahead. It was a “cold and hard and small” life, but the influence of a musically inclined housekeeper followed by a relocation to California helped inspire 18-year-old Evie to wriggle her way through the “white hallowed gates” of MGM and into the job that would ultimately take her in the opposite direction to where her dreams were leading her.

Hartstone’s talents are diverse and impressive – she sings and dances, as well as acts – and the play is the perfect vehicle for showcasing these skills. Song choices (including “Nobody Knows When You’re Down and Out”, “But Not For Me” and a heartbreaking rendition of “You Made Me Love You” delivered under an ink-blue spotlight) evoke the era with style.

The Girl Who Jumped Off the Hollywood Sign has been performed live during several previous Fringe seasons. This year it appears in recorded form via Black Box Live, the digital platform curated by Hartstone-Kitney Productions. This innovation is spot-on to address the needs of those still hesitant to return to the theatre and is also an inclusive way of reaching far wider audiences than usual.

Evie’s dreams mirror those of Peg Entwistle, the real-life actress who committed suicide in 1932 after diving into the ravine from the same spot where Evie now agonises over her own failures, her illusions shattered after missing out on that “one good role” time after time.

The Girl Who Jumped Off the Hollywood Sign is a beautifully polished view on disposable talent and a tragic tale of a girl who placed a bet on herself and lost.

Then Girl Who Jumped Off The Hollywood Sign is showing online via On Demand at Black Box Live throughout the Fringe.

Read more 2022 Adelaide Fringe stories and reviews here.

 

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.