Review by Natalie Joy Quesnel
60m | Drama, Solo | Mature
Margo MacDonald is Maggie Hale, the fictional enforcer of a very real all-female gang, The Forty Elephants, that terrorized 19th century London. The play, set in a London pub in 1937, shows us a retired Hale, goaded by a curious college student, recalling the triumphs and downfall of the infamous gang.
MacDonald, an award-winning actor, embodies Hale’s inner vulnerability and hardened exterior with ease. She is clearly passionate about the play’s subject matter, which shows through her dynamic performance. Solo storytelling pieces require a strong actor and MacDonald delivered by captivating her sold-out opening night’s audience.
However solid the performer, the text itself still feels very much like a work-in-progress. In the program, MacDonald admits as much and encourages the audience to get in touch with her to give their feedback. This is one of the blessings of the Fringe, as many festival patrons feel honored and motivated to have a part in a new work’s development.
From my perspective, the narrative has all of the ingredients but need to simmer for a bit longer. It was unclear to me what motivated Hale to offload the intimate details of what, up until recently, had been forbidden to discuss. The performance often read like a fascinating history lesson, but lacked in drive and conflict. The tension relating to the relationship between Hale and the gang’s leader, Diamond Annie, is weaker than I believe is intended. The words are there, but the stakes aren’t quite high enough yet. Many unnecessary lighting changes and unmotivated stage movements attempt to convey a certain tone or intensity, but often miss the mark.
There is no doubt that The Elephant Girls is a diamond in the rough. It’s a play worth seeing for MacDonald’s performance alone. You may also want to go so you can brag about being one of the first to see it before it inevitably develops into the powerhouse story it has the potential to be.
The Elephant Girls is playing at Venue 4 – Studio Leonard-Beaulne on Monday June 22nd at 9pm, Thursday June 25th at 6:30pm, Saturday June 27th at 4pm and Sunday June 28th at 2:30pm. Tickets are $12.