Child stars are generally perceived to go down one of two routes. There are notorious train wrecks à la Macaulay Culkin or Lindsay Lohan. Then you have your Elijah Woods and Emma Watsons; those who are able to make a healthy transition from childhood fame to successful adult actor. But what happens to those who go down neither route, and instead fade gracefully into obscurity? Hatty Jones, writer and star of That Girl, must be just one of many former child stars who went from being a household name to holding down a regular old office job. For every Drew Barrymore there must be plenty of Lisa Jakubs (Who’s that you ask? Exactly). But what must that transition be like for the person who went through it? This is the intrigue of That Girl’s premise.
Twenty years later, Hatty Jones is still recognisable as the adorably lively school girl from the 1998 ‘cult classic’ Madeline, in which she played the title role. I’m sure we all remember the childhood favourite featuring Frances McDormand as a nun, a heroic dog saving a girl from drowning in the Seine, and some killer straw hat and coat combos. Jones may have grown up, but the twinkle in her eye remains.
You do not have to have to be a former child star to identify with Jones’s portrayal of herself as an unfulfilled millennial wracked with urban ennui. But, as with any actor/writer performing a self-constructed dramatized version of themselves, you can’t help but wonder how much of it is really true, and as a result it can often come across as a bit insincere or fabricated. This effect is heightened here by the frequent childlike telling of tall tales. As an audience member, I am never quite sure when she is sending herself up or sharing genuine experience of how appearing in the film has affected the course of her life. This is somewhat disappointing, as it results in the play failing to answer the central question of the emotional impact on the no-longer-famous child stars with any truth.
It’s an original lens through which to examine the otherwise archetypal millennial experience of unfulfilled potential. The trope is heightened by Jones’s precocious talent and early stardom, which make the tragedy of her present mundaneness and anonymity all the more tragic. The dramatized Hatty’s repeated assertions that she chose not to become a fully-fledged star are belied by the real-life Jones’s imdb page, which states that she went on to audition for Hermione in Harry Potter, and got down to the last two alongside the aforementioned Emma Watson.
All acting performances are solid, especially that of Jones herself. All other parts are played by Alex Reynolds and Will Adolphy, who both deftly manage to distinguish between the characters they multi-roll. Sunny Smith’s card-board box set is clever and the staging is slick enough in the tiny space of the Old Red Lion.
Ultimately though, the play suffers from the gap between its fictionalised account and the story of Jones’s real experience, and resultant lack of emotional realism. The plot is not entirely fleshed out and there is no real sense of denouement. For these reasons, despite its intriguing starting point, this piece of theatre does not feel fully realised.
That Girl is playing at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 15 September. For more information and tickets, click here.