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The Elephant in the Room at the Hen & Chickens Theatre

The Elephant in the RoomWe’re overrun at the moment with stories of women struggling to be taken seriously and to break through the glass ceiling in a male-dominated business environment, but who would have thought this problem was just as rife in the criminal underworld of South-West London in the 19th and 20th centuries? The Elephant in the Room shatters any illusion that Victorian gangs were a male-dominated world, presenting the true story of Alice Diamond and her all-female gang the ‘40 Elephants.’ The problem is simple, whilst her gang are excellent pickpockets, they simply can’t get themselves taken seriously enough to sell their goods at a fair price, and the only way to grow their power is to form an alliance with the rival male gang ‘The Elephant Boys’. But will it work out well for them?

The script is fast-paced, engaging and filled with deadpan humour that has the audience hooked from the start. The undertone of menace throughout keeps you on edge and every so often spills over into scenes of aggression which do not feel overdone or gimmicky, but keep the audience on their toes, a particular highlight of this was when this was directed at the audience when we were instructed to run from the police at the interval by a terrifying Bill Hughes, the Elephant Boys’ enforcer. Played by Jack Eccles, Bill’s quiet but ever-present glare gave a real sinister feel to proceedings. Alongside this, there were some expertly choreographed and convincing fight scenes involving knives, screwdrivers and a chair which really set my teeth on edge.

Melanie Crossley gave a commanding performance as Alice Diamond, filling the stage with confidence and subtle power, leaving no question as to who was in charge. She was completely believable as the gang leader as she, along with Bethan Bernard and Heather Smith, demonstrated some slick pickpocketing live on stage. The whole cast did a great job of playing multiple roles without ever once leaving the audience confused as to their character with some quick costume changes, plenty of accent changes and most importantly complete changes in mannerisms. The set, while basic, was used to its full advantage, even if it felt a little rough and ready. There was the odd stumble over lines and occasionally the cockney accents became a little tricky to understand, but this did not detract from the overall performance.

Overall, The Elephant in the Room is an engaging play. It has sharp dialogue, an intriguing storyline and great acting, which all make for an entertaining evening.

4 stars

Review by Emily Diver

Set in the 1920s, this tale of London’s criminal underbelly is based on real events and real members of the notorious female gang, the Forty Elephants.

Led by the dangerous Alice Diamond, their ambition grows and now they aim to execute their biggest heist yet.

To pull it off, they request the help of the devious Elephant boys, spearheaded by the ruthless Harry Harcourt, but is London big enough for Alice and Harry to work together?

Hen & Chickens Theatre
109 St Paul’s Road
London N1 2NA


  • Emily Gami

    I am a 25 year old Geography teacher who really loves the theatre. I first fell in love with the theatre when I was 15 and since moving to London 4 years ago I have tried to see as many shows as possible. On the rare occasions I am not at work or at the theatre I can usually be found on a tennis court or curled up somewhere with a good book

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