RADA Festival continues with a heartwarming yet rarely told story in Alison Skilbeck’s one-woman show, ‘Mrs Roosevelt Flies to London’. Skilbeck, an associate teacher at RADA, breathes new life into the heroine with her hugely entertaining monograph detailing the life of Eleanor Roosevelt.
The show begins with Skilbeck, swathed in her coat and with Mrs Roosevelt’s famous hat cocked on her head, at a point near death. In a series of captivating flashbacks we are taken through her marriage to Franklin Roosevelt, and experience the tirelessness of her relentless campaigning and activism as First Lady of the World. The retelling of her story focused on a trip to England during the Second World War, with highlights including anecdotal discussions with the Queen and being at loggerheads with Sir Winston Churchill; characters which were admirably all adopted by Skilbeck with sensitivity and gracious humour. Then there were moments of deep pathos as we are transported into her hidden life and Skilbeck changes the pace. A woman to admire, but a woman with her own set of insecurities which are exposed when we learn of her unhappy childhood and unconventional marriage. And in this, we see the strength of human spirit, as we witness her most admirable moments such as when she addresses the women of the war in the rain – “just like all these other courageous young women” – and her fight for human rights.
Skilbeck’s is a convincing portrayal and it is hard not to be won over and intrigued by the efforts of this extraordinary woman. It is an admirable feat, to depict the life of such a prolific historical figure entirely by one’s self and so Skilbeck uses every tool within her apparatus to bring the story to life including a small set of personal props: a scarlet poppy wreath hung tentatively on the back wall, a trunk full of letters and memories past… and, of course, the hat. What was particularly poignant was the apparent sense of admiration and empathy that Skilbeck had for Mrs Roosevelt throughout the piece. That, paired with the excellently adapted script from Eleanor Roosevelt’s writings made the show truly gratifying. You’ll leave the theatre feeling uplifted and inspired as Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous words seem entirely true: “The future belongs to those who believe in the power of their dreams”. And boy, did she believe.