Edinburgh Festival Fringe: If this were a movie, the establishing shot would be an extreme close-up: we open on the upper half of an oversized capital letter H.
Assembly Roxy (Venue 139)
Then, from the darkness behind the left strut, a woman appears: black dress, red lipstick, immaculately styled blonde hair. She’ll be the titular ‘Girl’, then – and considering the rest of that foreboding headline, it’s a little jarring when she cheerily remarks, “There sure are a lot of rungs on that ladder!”
It’s a welcome flash of gallows humour in Joanne Hartstone’s one-woman play, a decades-spanning view of how Hollywood chews women up and spits them out. Born in 1925, Evelyn Margaret Edwards (or Evie Edwards, to use her stage name) lived through some of the defining moments of the early 20th century: after her father was left destitute by the 1929 Wall Street Crash, they moved to a “Hooverville” shanty town to survive the Great Depression, before 1941 and the attack on Pearl Harbour heralded a surge of military employment in California. Naturally, while daddy was helping construct the Spruce Goose, Evie found other ways to entertain herself – such as hanging out in the Hollywood Canteen with the likes of Bette Davis.
Hartstone’s accent and delivery are perfectly evocative of the period – her straight-talkin’ speech recalls Katharine Hepburn or Rosalind Russell, while her singing voice is akin to Judy Garland’s. Together with forgotten silent star Theda Bara and ‘Platinum Blonde’ Jean Harlow (who, Edwards claims, died aged 26 from kidney disease exacerbated by her toxic hair treatment), Garland is held up as an icon by the young starlet, who’s only too aware of the tragedies that befell them.
As she relates her compelling, all-too-believable tale, that gigantic half-H looms in the background, a constant reminder of (almost) certain tragedy to come.
Until 28 August. Today 11:30am.