"Top Dogs (or Top Bitches?)"
by Saul Reichlin for remotegoat on 09/04/17

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". Lesser in the public consciousness today, are The Forty Elephants, also known as The Forty Thieves, the country’s only all-female crime syndicate, who were unique in the annals of British crime in the 20s. 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 an admirable job of conflating for herself as actress, a role embodying various of the protagonists, from Alice Diamond, ‘top bitch’, to the gang’s ‘enforcer’, packing enough weaponry to supply a 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 (mugging, permanent rictus smile and all) very close to parody and caricature, often sacrificing credibility, sense and detail for speed of delivery. All this sporting a heavy accent, flawed and cod, occasionally betraying her native Canadian. In a theatre a stone’s throw from the Elephant And 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, 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 a much bigger 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 looking a little bare and unsupported. As no-one is credited with either in the programme, 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 a derivation from the venue’s origin as a community hall, it was amusing to be herded into what she referred to as ‘the holding area’ (foyer). One wondered what was in store!

Add Your review?

Have your say, add your review

Other recent reviews by Saul Reichlin
The Merchant of Venice
The Still Waters Of Venice by Saul Reichlin
Mirrors
Frustrating Face In The Mirror by Saul Reichlin
Mirrors
Devastating, Desirable and Dangerous Girl by Saul Reichlin
Fairytales For Grown-Ups - Baba Yaga!
Baba Yaga! In Your Dreams by Saul Reichlin
Fire and Phoenix
Of The Trials Of London by Saul Reichlin