Alison Skilbecks’ one-woman play, ‘Mrs. Roosevelt Flies to London’, explores the rumours of lesbian affairs that have surrounded the ‘First Lady of the World’, says David Mullane.
Known as the ‘First Lady of the World’, Eleanor Roosevelt was the first American president’s wife to take an active role in politics, stepping out from behind her husband FDR’s shadow. A champion of women, labourers and racial minorities, she chaired the UN Commission on Human Rights, overseeing the drafting of the Universal Human Declaration of Human Rights. Overcoming many challenges in her life – including her husband’s polio, the early deaths of her parents, bouts of depression and, not least, a difficult mother-in-law – Roosevelt was a resolute fighter, once quoted as saying: “Women are like tea bags. You never know how strong they are until you put them in hot water.”
On one thing scholars and biographers cannot agree, and that is her rumoured affairs with other women. Eleanor and Franklin were a functional couple and supportive of each other, but neither were capable of satisfying the other in a romantic way. Franklin had at least two affairs during their marriage and Eleanor has been strongly linked to both men and women, most famously to the journalist, Lorena Hickok, whom she first met during her husband’s presidential campaign.
This intriguing facet of her character, among many others, are explored with close attention to detail by Alison Skilbeck in her new one-woman play, Mrs. Roosevelt Flies to London. Almost a monograph on the first lady, Skilbeck’s play takes place during Roosevelt’s solo trip to Britain in 1942, at the height of World War II. Granted special permission to use Roosevelt’s writings, Skilbeck’s script feels honest, respectful and insightful and her performance is impressive, embodying not only Roosevelt but almost 30 other characters, including Churchill and the Queen.
While the production is modest and the staging limited and repetitive in the confines of the New Theatre’s tight space, Skilbeck is a gifted character actress whose storytelling is captivating. The show’s sound design by Emma Laxton must also be praised, adding a richness to the experience. Laxton has an extensive background in London theatre and is currently the associate sound designer for the National Theatre’s production of War Horse.
Whether your knowledge of Eleanor Roosevelt is limited to her fictional appearance in the musical Annie or extends further, Mrs. Roosevelt Flies to London is a fine education in this great woman’s life.
Mrs Roosevelt Flies To London runs at The New Theatre in Dublin’s Temple Bar until May 31. Booking here.
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