Theatre review: Mrs Roosevelt Flies To London

Mrs Roosevelt at the King's Head. Picture: Chris Christodoulou

Mrs Roosevelt at the King's Head. Picture: Chris Christodoulou - Credit: Archant

Eleanor Roosevelt’s British expedition has received a first class adaptation, says Caroline David.

In 1942 Eleanor Roosevelt paid a morale-boosting visit to Britain, met the Prime Minister and Royal family and did a whistle-stop tour of cites to see how the nation was coping. Alison Skilbeck’s impressive one-woman show pays tribute to an exceptional political campaigner.

Skilbeck’s subject matter is very thoroughly researched with the aid of Eleanor Roosevelt’s letters and diary. The play moves backwards and forwards within a frame that establishes Eleanor in old age swaddled in a coat in a nursing home. The scenes encapsulate moments from the trip, interspersed with key personal memories. Eleanor’s rich life is conjured up in multiple dimensions. The detail is consistently impressive; from the scope of her humanitarian work and journalism to the personal tragedy of losing both parents in childhood, and Franklin’s affairs, resulting in their decision to run their marriage as ‘a partnership apart’. The script twists and turns with plenty of witty asides and confessions. Skilbeck delivers every second on stage with boundless energy.

Warmth and humour are key ingredients. Eleanor’s maternal indignation that the troops aren’t given appropriate woollen socks is swiftly channeled into a policy change. Her wry impersonations of class affectations and the drawn out vowels of Queen Mary are particularly enjoyable. Equally, the wistful rendering of a train journey she spent in the arms of her life-long friend, journalist Lorena Hickok, who showed her ‘a world of love,’ shine fresh light on Eleanor’s character and the layers behind the political brand she created. While the portrayal of Eleanor’s later-life and disillusionment with US policy is not sufficiently grounded in earlier scenes, Lucy Skilbeck’s [no relation] direction is intelligent and vivid. Emma Laxton’s sound design is sensitive and well paced and Mrs Roosevelt’s 75 minute flying visit flies by.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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