MRS ROOSEVELT FLIES TO WEXFORD
Alison Skilbeck’s one-woman show Mrs Roosevelt Flies to London is the latest in an impressive line of single-handers presented by Wexford Arts Centre. Previous subjects have ranged from poet Dylan Thomas to Sherlock Holmes and Beatles’ roadie Mal Evans, and Mrs Roosevelt Flies to London is another trip back in time, with the Skilbeck using a sparse set and her impressively versatile skills to transport us on the US First Lady’s trip to London in 1942 to observe how the war is affecting the British, especially the women.
The 75-minute show sprinkles flashbacks throughout, including Eleanor Roosevelt’s rallying speeches to British women war workers, her husband Franklin D’s infidelity, his polio, her alleged long–term lesbian relationship with journalist Lorena “Hick” Hickok, her outspoken and courageous striving for human rights that did not always sit well with her husband’s political ambitions, and her troubled childhood. Skilbeck reveals a woman who treated triumph, tragedy and trivia with a patient humour not overly common in the 21st century.
The show opens with Roosevelt at 78, with the Cuban missile crisis bringing the world to the brink of oblivion. She knows she’s dying but doesn’t care. But in one bound, literally, Skilbeck sheds twenty years and takes us on a rollercoaster stroll through her memories of London, with adroit impersonations of the Queen, Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden and others. Her refusal to be cowed by Churchill, with whom she argued defiantly, is one of the high spots. But it’s not all about top brass, as Skilbeck graphically observes the bomb-damaged streets, the food, the factories, American troops and the stoicism of the people.
Roosevelt’s own voluminous writings are the source for the taut script. Indeed, who could have imagined that a heroic woman, a confident, passionate and often fearless speaker, was also unsettled by personal insecurities? It might also be a revelation to some that she was one of the driving forces in the creation of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
In the end, Skilbeck’s skilful portrayal brings Mrs Roosevelt to life so convincingly that you leave the Wexford Arts Centre determined to learn more about this unconventional and determined women who gave so much of her energies to trying to make the world a better place. For Skilbeck’s one-woman show to have achieved that is remarkable in itself. But it’s so much more.
ARTS & THEATRE REVIEWS: LIAM MURPHY,MUNSTER EXPRESS
ONE WOMAN PLAY REVIEW Mrs Roosevelt Flies To London The extraordinary character actress, Alison Skilbeck returned to Ireland with another one-woman show. She again excelled with her written and performed, Mrs Roosevelt Flies To London, and she brought to the Theatre Royal stage a large cast of finely delineated characters, that were given life, mannerisms, inflections of voice and accent.
The adventurous and well respected Richard Ryan Promotions organised this Irish tour that allowed Alison Skilbeck to begin a journey of Eleanor Roosevelt wife of the second President Roosevelt, who came to London in 1942 to represent her polio-stricken husband in a morale boosting exercise for American troops, and at the same time allow Mrs Roosevelt to spend time with the many groups of women who made great sacrifices during the Second World War.
Scene moved to scene with style and economy from banqueting with British monarchy, to speaking to the troops, and dawn speeches to female shift workers in Scotland. Within that activity she managed to tell a sad story of her difficult life with a one-time unfaithful husband/politician. It was easy to sympathise or even empathise with a life of duty to causes and the constant on-the-go for causes of the people, of and for betterment and future improvement She embodied the gung-ho impact of the New Deal that Roosevelt promised.
We also got a glimpse of the controversial and close relationship she had with a reporter, Lorena Hicks, and of her controversial stance for better rights for African Americans, and also for universal womens’ rights.
President Truman called her ‘First Lady of the World’, and nominated her as United States Representative to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
In a 100 minute show, Alison Skilbeck held the audience in the sweep of her arm and the energy of her ambition and drive to succeed. And succeed she did.