Written and performed by Margo MacDonald
Draper Hall Theater
57 Hampton Street, London SE17 3AN
Call: 07990 573 622
Tickets £12 – £8
6- 22 April 7.30pm
Running time 1 hr 10 mins with no intermission
Top Dog or Top Bitch?
Ronnie Kray and his brother, Reggie, were two of London’s most notorious gangsters. In their rule, Ronnie is even quoted as saying ‘We were f***ing untouchable”. As powerful in their time, but lesser in the public consciousness today, are The Forty Elephants, also known as The Forty Thieves, the all-female crime syndicate of the 20s, who were unique in the annals of British crime. In his book, ‘Alice Diamond And The Forty Elephants’, author Brian McDonald describes them as ‘a gang of tough but glamorous young women, who plundered the fashion stores and jewel shops of the West End, took their lovers from among London’s most notorious gangsters, and terrorized their rivals.’
The material from which this first one-woman show on the subject is drawn is vast, and actor/playwright, Margo MacDonald has done a skillful job of conflating various of the protagonists into a role for herself, embodying Alice Diamond, ‘top bitch’, to the gang’s ‘enforcer’, packing enough weaponry to supply a minor gang war. In addition, she most convincingly portrays other characters along the way in her story.
Dressed by costume designer, Vanessa Imeson, as a spiv, but looking slightly uncomfortable in a (size too small) man’s 3-piece suit, Miss MacDonald brings immense strutting energy to her role. She does, however, deliver a level of intensity bordering on parody and caricature (mugging, permanent rictus smile and all) often sacrificing credibility, sense and detail for speed of delivery, making it nigh on impossible to develop any degree of empathy or affection for the hard-sell characterisation. All this sporting a heavy, but flawed, accent occasionally betraying her native Canadian. In a theatre a stone’s throw from the Elephant & Castle, the accent demanded authenticity. It was disappointing to hear rhyming slang largely eschewed or wrongly used. She should know to drop the ‘plate’ from ‘China plate’, a policeman is never ‘a policeman’ but ‘a rozzer’ given the period, and a suit is a ‘whistle’ not a ‘suit’.
Rather strangely directing the first half hour of her monologue to a point somewhere on the back wall, and the next period to a different fixed spot (or person) there were many times when it seemed Miss MacDonald was playing to an audience in another, perhaps larger venue. The front row in this intimate theatre was within touching distance. Very sparingly used music and little or no lighting variation left the play a little bare and unsupported. As no-one is credited in the programme with either lighting or sound, this was presumably the decision of director, Mary Ellis.
The Artistic Director of the charming little venue, Stefanie Bochicchio, has ambitious plans and lots of energy. In what may be derived from the venue’s origin as a community hall, it was amusing to be herded into what she referred to as ‘the holding area’ (the foyer). One wondered what might be in store!