In September 1932, a 24-year old actrees called ‘Peg’ Entwistle climbed up the towering ‘H’ of the then ‘Hollywoodland’ sign, and committed suicide by jumping off it. Joanne Hartstone’s brave production isn’t about that incident exactly, but borrows heavily from Peg’s story to depict a darker side of America’s ‘dream factory’.
In light of the recent exposure of the rampant abuse of power in Hollywood – and the consistent exploitation of struggling talent – this show takes on a highly topical issue. Evie Edwards, played by Hartstone, is a young girl who wants to make it big as an actress, a perfect starry-eyed dreamer. But because of her family’s lacklusture background and relatively modest means, she finds herself unable to ‘get noticed’ or appreciated. She makes some tough decisions that haunt her throughout.
The narrative, delivered with absolute gravitas by Hartstone, draws on the experiences of many actresses of that 40s era – who had to trade their self-respect, dignity and modesty to continue to do their job. Evie evokes the pressure of it eloquently: ‘Everything here is big and impossible to climb,’ she says, trembling as she skirts the edge of the famous giant ‘H’. Studio names are also quoted with abandon, and one wonders, how much, if anything at all, has really changed.
Hartstone is also a formidable singer, and her musical interludes are a good way to break the storyline up. Despite this though, the production felt too long to me, and on more than one occasion I thought the point being delivered had been made before. Combined with the lack of climax, or any natural high-point in the story, it is easy to tune in and out.
I also wondered at times what the close alignment with Entwitsle’s story actually achieves, given that it is not actually a biopic. That said, this production is well worth watching – to remind ourselves of the underlying menace of big industries, and how much pain and suffering is hidden behind the magic that is the silver screen.