Mary Ellis

“The Elephant Girls” Hit Hard!

“The Elephant Girls” is a tough tale, carefully and craftily woven, and delivered with a powerful punch…

Written and performed by Margo MacDonald, it is the fact-based fictionalized story of the all-women gang, ‘the Forty Elephants’, that terrorized London in the early 1900’s – and an intriguing and engaging tale it is! This is a mesmerizing exercise in storytelling, embedded with bits of theatricality that delight the audience at the same time as they remain immersed in the raw and gritty narrative. While we are certainly content to simply sit and listen to the yarn spun by MacDonald as ‘enforcer’ Maggie Hale, moments such as her cockney rhyming slang, the unveiling of the arsenal, and the simple but dramatic scene transitions add heightened entertainment without drawing from the brooding mood and gravity of the story, all neatly established with a fantastic under-played introduction that makes one lean in from the moment the dim spotlight comes up.

The costuming of Maggie, designed by Vanessa Imeson, is immaculately precise, punctuated with every hair being perfectly in place. The setting is simple, but coupled with the costume and few props, it quickly evokes the time, place and tone of Maggie’s tale. I must imagine that the direction of Mary Ellis not only supported MacDonald’s vision of a piece written and performed by herself, but also played a significant part in the tight staging that remained fluid throughout; never stagnant, but never overwhelming. The objective eye surely helped, as well, with an unusually impressive maintenance of energy throughout, with a perfect sustained build offering natural ebb and flow, yet conserving enough to execute an impressively powerful climax. This is an incredible challenge associated with any one-person show, as they are simply exhausting and difficult to sustain (especially in the heat of our local Fringe!), so I feel compelled to give this credit where it is due. Creating, exchanging, and sustaining tension without a counterpart on stage can be very difficult as well, but again, with a well-written script and deft skill, MacDonald is able to deliver. She also does a masterful job of addressing her audience as she speaks, making most everyone feel as though she is talking directly to them. The only hitch in delivery was whenever it came time for MacDonald to address the ‘third-party’, the person to whom she was speaking within the context of the narrative, and this, at least in part, may be due to how effectively she was addressing the audience otherwise. Greater clarity in defining this individual (versus us, the patrons) might be helpful, though I wonder if the convention is necessary at all. It’s a small quibble, but it made for the only rare moments where suspension of disbelief was set aside to try to make a sense of who was being spoken to.

Not only is “The Elephant Girls” staged and performed with excellence, but there are also some poignant and provocative moments that are equally horrifying and beautiful. This is a brilliant production, not to be missed, that offers as much impact as entertainment.

“The Elephant Girls” continues its run in Venue #3 of the Storefront Fringe Festival