Forget lovable rogues and artful dodgers, this uncomfortable monologue tells the true story of a London awash with criminal gangs in the interwar years. The Bermondsey boys, Battersea boys, City Road boys, Goose Green boys; the list goes on, but with only one girl gang- The Elephant Girls. Described as the 'cleverest of thieves' they ransacked the department stores of the West End, fenced the goods and lived it up in style back at home in Elephant and Castle. 'Everything you could ever want under one roof, all for the taking' says Maggie.
You cannot take your eyes off Margo MacDonald as Maggie
Maggie Hale, ex-enforcer for the girls is painfully proud of this now faded glamour. For the price of a few pints she spills her tales. She would probably do it for free; so desperate is she to re-live the glory days. So far, so nice. A few cutesy stories of harmless criminality and sisterhood under their Queen Alice or Annie Diamond, doing just as well as the boys at being bad. As the nights wear on though, the true nature of Maggie tumbles out, realised in all its grimy horror; the baseness and violence of gang life is made apparent.
You cannot take your eyes off Margo MacDonald as Maggie. There is something gruesomely compelling about her performance as she swaggers and deliberately show boats her way through the piece. 70 minutes of stage time evaporates without pause for thought. This level of immersion in a solo show is rarely achieved and the naturalistic storytelling transports you firmly elsewhere. Having also written the play, she can take credit for the pacey narrative and lyrical use of cockney slang which binds it all together. The stand out part was the 'show within a show', where Maggie physically and poetically educates her listener on the gangs of London. Her action scenes are expertly crafted and genuinely exciting. Her sex scenes; deliciously sordid.
It doesn't all work though. Maggie is in love with Queen Alice. She describes a woman so formidable and so vibrant that it is frustrating to only know her through MacDonald’s poorly chosen vocalisation. Better to have left her out entirely than to voice her in such a shrill, nasal throwaway.
Maggie is not a sympathetic character. Despite revealing a great deal of vulnerability you will be waiting a long time for the redemption of this villain. You will be waiting though, hooked all the way through. You will probably go home and Google the Elephant Girls. You will probably tell their story to a few people. It's that sort a play.