Brighton Fringe 2017
The Elephant Girls is Margo MacDonald’s one-woman play which she both wrote and acts in. Mary Ellis directs this Parry Riposte Production. As with other Rialto productions, lighting’s a pinpoint house affair managed by Laurie Shannon. MacDonald is dressed to kill, literally, we find out, in 1930s male attire: Vanessa Imeson’s costume is rich, not gaudy.
It’s history, so believe it. For over a century an all-woman gang marauded London from Elephant and Castle. Margo MacDonald’s explosive one-woman play which she both wrote and acts in, asks what you might expect in a series of evenings with Maggie Hale, an amalgam of two Maggie Hs, in 1937. It’s based we’re told on a history by Brian McDonald, citing other obscure quotes. They’re avowedly sparse in detail allowing MacDonald some furious speculation. There’s a table, chair, several beers drunk over several evenings, and later on the contents of Hale’s pockets. Mary Ellis directs this Parry Riposte Production. As with other Rialto productions, lighting’s a pinpoint house affair managed by Laurie Shannon with gradations of shading. MacDonald is dressed to kill, literally, we find out, in 1930s male attire: Vanessa Imeson’s costume is rich, not gaudy, a classy silk-edged Capone.
Hale challenges her silent interlocutor, us, in a sequence of punctuated evenings, often curtailed with a preemptory demand to get out. But only Hale knows the trust of the gang, which rooted in 1830, but here picked up in her teen years from around 1913-29. She relates her early abusive early life, though not all at once, one the streets at thirteen, swiftly recruited and then meeting her future queen the woman she falls for but who doesn’t fall for her by takes her number two. This extraordinary tall redhead dominates Hale’s imagination as well as all around her men and women alike. Ultimately another young girl dominates hers. Hales not too bereft, persuading young recruits that the ban on having lovers outside means having men at all, which isn’t true. She briefly recounts her seductions.
We’re treated to modes of theft, violence, arrests running full tilt into constables, West End theatre queues, trays of diamonds, a superbly-orchestrated set of raids on department stores with about forty women plunging in and through pocketing everything and out before bewildered store detectives can pounce. A prayer to thank Mr Selfridge every night. The department store is an Elephant’s gift. It’s all changed now, Hale laments.
A couple of days alter, Hale’s resumed narrative gets progressively darker. she paces rather a lot of iron wear on the table. She recounts how one woman she seduces outside a pub responds sexually to her in a way that she realizes in a flash could include love. Hale can’t bear it. It’s one of those moments moving back from the roistering narrative elsewhere. a fear of genuine sexual response and possibilities Hales too inured to to surrender now.
Hale’s been in prison, and each time it becomes more unendurable. First books help, then she’s given more hard labour than is healthy. But her Queen has altered too, obsessed with the apostasy of one girl. It’s happened before, but this time she’s out of control, and takes her gang with her for revenge on the girl’s family. the denouement is dark, brooding and with a final fit of snatching Hale confronts us.
MacDonald’s riveting throughout, using the stage to spread her story but not too far, striking contained poses, rasping her laments, lusts and long views to the dogged interlocutor. A phenomenally tight performance, paused and speeded at exactly the right points. A superb performance of a remarkable play and subject, whatever its provenance.