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MRS ROOSEVELT FLIES TO LONDON – King’s Head Theatre, London.

Mrs Roosevelt Flies to LondonEleanor Roosevelt was an extraordinary woman; in Mrs Roosevelt Flies To London, Alison Skilbeck has written a piece which conveys some of the reasons, events and actions that made her the indefatigable longest serving First Lady of the United States of America. Skilbeck also performs this one woman show, and the wealth of research undertaken is evident in the richness of her portrayal of Mrs Roosevelt.

Primarily centred around Eleanor Roosevelt’s visit to wartime Britain in 1942, Skilbeck creates an episodic piece of storytelling that time travels throughout her life. We meet her first as a dying 78 year old woman, incoherent and frustrated, and refusing (and hiding) pills. We then catapult back to wartime London, her stay at Buckingham Palace (where it appears that sprouts were eaten at nearly every meal due to rationing) and around the country – meeting Land Girls who were previously London’s fastest typists, and “our boys”, soldiers both British and American.

Although this gives us an interesting insight into Mrs Roosevelt’s life and this  dangerous and inspired visit, this format can make the narrative somewhat difficult to follow: at times firing off at tangents, honing in on her unhappy childhood, devoid of fun after both of her parents die, and skipping ahead to her marriage with Franklin D Roosevelt, her deep and profound friendship (and love) with journalist Lorena Hickock and the lessons learnt from her inspirational headmistress, the feminist Marie Souvestre. Yet all of this information is in itself riveting, particularly as Skilbeck has been given special permission by Nancy Roosevelt Ireland to use extracts from Eleanor Roosevelt’s diary and writings, including her letters.

Skilbeck also touches upon the remarkable political and humanitarian work carried out by Mrs Roosevelt after her husband’s death, overseeing the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and continually campaigning and speaking out for women, about racial issues and for humanity. Mrs Roosevelt Flies To London shows her to be a talented and complex individual, not just as the wife of the President – but a person with a strong mind, determination and an unfailing dedication to restoring the world to peace.

This is an empowering and inspirational piece of Theatre; at its most basic level it tells us multiple stories from one person’s long and amazing life in politics, and at its most complex, it is a powerful mix of betrayal, survival and determination. An interesting play, recommended particularly for a different point of view on some very familiar British and American political figures.

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By Emily Jones

14th April – 9th May 2015
King’s Head Theatre, London N1 1QN.

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