The Elephant Girls
Review by Wes Babcock
Written and performed by Margo MacDonald and directed by Mary Ellis, this show tells the incredibly fascinating and little-known story of the Elephant Girls, a gang of women thieves from early in London’s last century.
Elephant Girls is one of the most interesting stories not only at this Fringe, but that you may ever hear. In this rendition, which strikes a balance between history and fiction, Maggie Hale is the former right-hand-woman for the Queen of The Elephants, and she recounts a number of their exploits to a curious invisible character in a bar where she evidently spends a lot of time.
The script is this show’s greatest strength. In recounting these stories from the past the language is vivid, transporting the audience to an unfamiliar time and place, without being ornate. It is enthralling, and strikes me as an accurate depiction of period spoken language. I have never heard a story like this told from the perspective of a woman; it’s as refreshing as it is dark, bloody, and moving.
The framing narrative, however, seems to box the production into a corner from which the staging struggles to escape. The character of Maggie is very vivid in her language and in her ability to vocally tell her own story, but placing her in this bar in this conversation leaves the stage feeling underused, and MacDonald’s physical acting talents largely untapped. The invisible listener sits in the same place each time he joins her in the bar, which creates an unnecessarily narrow focus for the movement on stage.
The bar setting itself also places constraint on the performance. It seems like the play hasn’t quite decided if the bar is real or merely a theatrical vehicle, and this leaves MacDonald in a sort of limbo. The heavy beering is a great means of characterization, but the omnipresent glasses prevent her from making better use of the rest of the props, and from using the set as something other than a place to sit.
This show is already fantastic, and has a ton of potential to improve. It tells a unique story that deserves attention in its own right, and which MacDonald brings to life with outstanding technical skill and magnetic presence.
The Elephant Girls
Parry and Riposte Productions
Written and Performed by Margo MacDonald
Directed by Mary Ellis
Costume – Vanessa Imeson
Lighting – Laura Wheeler
Stage Manager – Laurie Shannon