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Review of Mrs Roosevelt Flies to London at King’s Head Theatre

Mrs Roosevelt learning of husband's affair
Mrs Roosevelt learning of husband’s affair

This lovely biopic narrating the story of Eleanor Roosevelt’s visit to London during World War II, performed by the inimitable Alison Skilbeck, is a gem in the one woman show genre. An inspired and insightful play that has been thoroughly researched, and more importantly loved, Skilbeck shows us the motivations and energies behind the difficult life of a relatively unsung mover and shaker of the Second World War.

I should say Skilbecks, for coincidentally both director and performer/creator, have the same surname. They definitely make a unified and successful team. The direction of this play, by Lucy Skilbeck, is simple, touching and effective. The material itself is original writing enhanced by excerpts from primary resources such as letters and Eleanor Roosevelt’s diary. They reveal a pain in her private life but also a little-known fun and energy which previous profiles of this woman, known for her pragmatism and doggedness, tend to ignore.

Alison Skilbeck is a sparkling Mrs Roosevelt and captures the dynamism with which this First Lady worked to improve life for the working classes. We hear about the struggles she faced as the ‘negroes’ friend’ and her insistence at getting Eisenhower to provide American troops with decent ‘woollen socks’. In making this a one woman show the production also highlights the evident loneliness that comes with leading such a high profile existence, especially when one’s husband is habitually unfaithful. It is bittersweet, at times utterly comedic and interspersed with moments of true sadness. Just like Eleanore Roosevelt herself, Skilbeck never lets the energy lag for even a moment and the drive forward is insistent and enthralling. She is everyone of a who’s-who of World War Two characters, from Churchill to the Queen and her movement about the stage is perfectly timed and engaging.

For 2015 the feel of the play is perhaps a little patriotic; work could have been done to make it more relevant to contemporary viewers, especially in its comic but still reverent approach to the Royals and it’s celebration of the British welfare ideology, which is now all but gone. And at times it felt a little like a docudrama rather than a piece of theatre. All in all though, this is a thoroughly entertaining and moving story of a woman who truly and selflessly believed that she could make the world a better place through hard work and commitment to her ideals. Running at just one hour and fifteen minutes this was the perfect introduction to Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt and I know that I for one would love to invite her to afternoon tea, just for the opportunity to get to know her better.

4 stars

Review by Annemarie Hiscott

Mrs Roosevelt Flies to London
In October 1942, Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of the President, takes a dangerous trip to war-time London, to visit US troops, and see how the British, most importantly the women, are coping. In her last days, as the Cuban Missile Crisis pushes the world to the brink of final catastrophe, Eleanor relives her journey, from bomb-damaged Buckingham Palace to midnight factories. She also recalls her life, from unhappy child, to unconventional wife, to becoming, in President Truman’s words ‘First Lady of the World’.

THE KING’S HEAD THEATRE
115 Upper Street
Islington
London N1 1QN

Mon – Sat 7:00pm
Matinee Saturday May 9 3.00pm
Tickets £15.00 to £25.00
Preview April 14 £10
Box office 0207 478 0160
www.kingsheadtheatre.com

Sunday 19th April 2015

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