Compelling historical play 'The Elephant Girls' charms your boots off
The Elephant Girls takes you back to London since forgotten. This one woman play is both entertaining, and gives onsite to the world of London gangs post World War 1 London, in particular sharing the antics of the Elephant & Castle women's gang, The Elephant Girls.
The play is set in a South London bar where Maggie Hale is sharing her experiences as part the 40-strong gang of women known as The Elephant Girls. The dialogue refers to various historical moments and landmarks including the start of the department stores with the opening of Selfridges as one of the highlights of their thriving exploits. It gives a rare insight into the time, and also to how some women were breaking free of the stereotypical expectations of marrying and having children, or working in the slave houses as was common place in post-war Britain.
We get to hear some of the stories and encounters that took place during the period (around 1917-1928), including the inevitable prison sentences, the common gang territories and rules around engagement with other gangs.
Margo MacDonald puts on a stellar performance as Maggie Hale whilst also providing occasional voices for other key members of the gang. This play has a great combination of positioning, revelling in the disarray and disobedience as well as the softness of the relationships within the gang - with the obvious lesbian references thrown in for good measure.
I was enthralled, as with all good lesbian theatre that is historical, I ate up every moment and longed to know more - to understand how queer women before me existed, survived and thrived - and ultimately paved the way for me to be me today.
They stole from the rich and gave to themselves. This is the gripping story of the all-female gang which terrorized London for over 100 years. A fascinating piece of lost women's history, only recently brought to light, the play focuses on the 1920s when the gang was at the height of its power—and when the events took place which would come to mean its downfall.
Told in a pub over a three-night bender by Maggie Hale--the gang's suit-wearing, bloody-knuckled, girl-chasing “enforcer”. She’ll tell you all--who they were, what they did, why it worked, how they got away with it, and how it all came crashing down. But do you trust the words of someone who’s made deception their stock and trade? Should you ask what you really want to know? Just how much are you sure you want to hear?
A story both captivating and violent, humorous and terrifying. You won’t be able to look away.
About the Forty Elephants
The Forty Elephants, or the Elephant Girls, are an historic all-female gang which operated in London, England from the mid-1800s to about the 1950s. They were brought to light in 2010 by Brian McDonald who included them in his book The Gangs of London. Maggie Hale is both a conflation of several different historic gang members, and also entirely fictional. Unlike many male gangsters of the period, none of these women ever wrote their memoirs, and today any further information regarding these female “enforcers” is lost to time.
In conversation with Margo MacDonald
Talking to Margo after the play about where she found the information portrayed in this play she explained that she first came across the historical gang via a Facebook conversation and her research online and through a local resident's history book she was able to get enough information to form an outline.
She admitted that some areas needed to be coloured in based on her gut feelings - for example there were references to women being arrested in men's clothing but no references to actual lesbian tendencies. This isn't surprising as being a lesbian wasn't actually illegal unlike being a gay man so it would never be noted down on arrests or mentioned in court hearings; and given the stigma around homosexuality at the time it is unlikely that women would have gone around talking about it. However it is likely that queer women would have found refuge in spaces such as The Elephant Girls gang which is why the story fits so well!
Watch The Elephant Girls
You can see Margo MacDonald in The Elephant Girls at Draper Hall between 6 and 22 April.
- Location: Draper Hall, Hampton Street corner of Newington Butts, London SE17 3AN
- Tickets: £12/8 https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-elephant-girls-london-premiere-ticket...
The Elephant Girls is also taking place as part of Brighton Fringe.