Mrs Roosevelt Flies to London

Five-star performance in a three-star play. In Mrs. Roosevelt Flies to London, Mrs. Roosevelt, well, flies to London. It’s Mid-WWII, post-Blitz England with a city blown to pieces, and Eleanor Roosevelt has come to cheer us all up. But this First Lady was no fatuous figure. She was kind, astute and, more importantly, had a liberal disposition, even when a much-loved imperialist led Britain. What Mrs. Roosevelt Flies to London suggests, or tries to, is that her 1942 tour of our nation wasn’t the cursory gesture you’d expect it to be—not like George Bush in Iraq—but a brilliant survey of our plucky, juddered land.

Come for Skilbeck. Her Eleanor’s got moxie and a clear head; two things you both need when facing tragedy.

Alison Skilbeck, writer and performer, takes a phenomenal turn as Eleanor. You’d be hard-pressed to see better control in an actor. She should be good; after all; she’s a RADA teacher, and one who’s offering a masterclass through her performance. Finesse, power and a zigzag among many characters; it’s all here. There’s a reason you hear the audience “Bravo!” at the curtain call.

However, and it’s a sad thing to admit, Skilbeck’s writing doesn’t quite match her acting. The script’s well-researched, and she’s got some of the dramaturgy down pat, but the play is unruly in places. It’s framed as a recollection by Eleanor in her dying Cold War days. That’s strong: there’s a wistful sense that after her good deeds during and after the war, like overseeing the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the impending doom promised by MAD and the competing superpowers reduced her efforts to nothing. This is undeveloped, though, and there are too many references to FDR’s campaign which don’t aid the understanding of her tour. Most of all, the piece doesn’t build in any discernible form, leaving each leg of her journey a similar experience.

Come for Skilbeck. Her Eleanor’s got moxie and a clear head; two things you both need when facing tragedy. A so-so script, but who cares? She’s a sell-out performer and has got my eyes peeled for her next work. 

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The Blurb

In October 1942, Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of the president of the United States, takes a dangerous trip to wartime Britain to visit US troops and see how British women are coping. Nominated for Best Female Performance Offie Award and granted special permission from the Roosevelt estate to use Eleanor's writings, Alison Skilbeck's one-woman show explores the public and hidden life of one of the most extraordinary women of the twentieth century. ***** (Irish Mail on Sunday). ***** (Sunday Independent, Ireland). **** (LondonTheatre1.com).

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