The Elephant Girls is a one-woman show written and performed by Margo MacDonald. MacDonald plays Maggie Hale, a career criminal and an enforcer for the all-female Forty Elephants gang, which terrorised London for over a hundred years from the late 18th Century until the 1950s. This play takes place in 1937, a decade after the heyday of the Elephants, in a London pub.
The stage is set with a table, chairs and pints of beer. MacDonald swaggers on stage dressed in a very dapper suit. She addresses a man asking about the Forty Elephants, and agrees to tell the tale – as long as the beer keeps coming. MacDonald fictionalises real-life accounts to present a coherent narrative of the most prolific period of the gang, from when Hale first meets its leader Annie Diamond, to the violent decline of Diamond’s reign.
Hale makes it clear that she was infatuated with Annie from the moment she met her, and this infatuation is what drives Hale’s loyalty to the gang. Also fuelling her commitment is the belief that women only had four options in life: be a factory slave, a whore, a thief or a wife (the last of which she declares is only a combination of the previous three). A member of the Elephants could make a large amount of money and have unprecedented freedom, so why choose anything else?
Maggie’s outfit is a character in and of itself. She describes how she cut her hair off and began to wear trousers, finally finding her real self, after which one of the gang members remarked that ‘Miss Hale is a very dangerous young man’. At one point in her tale, she mentions how she protects herself and proceeds to pull a surprisingly large variety of weapons from various places of concealment. This is performed almost like a strip tease and elicited a great deal of laughter from the audience as the pile grew.
MacDonald’s accent occasionally wavers (she’s Canadian) and this can be a little jarring. However, this is a minor quibble, as the attention of the audience never strays and remains ensnared in a captivating story.
The play is brilliantly written and exceptionally performed. The history of the gang is obviously very rich and intriguing, and you will be left wanting to know more. Highly recommended.