Mrs Roosevelt Flies to London review at Assembly Hall, Edinburgh – ‘attractive and informative’
US President Franklin D Roosevelt’s wife Eleanor was the first First Lady to have a public presence, as writer and speaker on progressive causes and as her husband’s unofficial ambassador and agent. He sent her to Britain in 1942 to gauge national morale and provide assurance of American support.
Alison Skilbeck’s solo piece has Mrs Roosevelt reminiscing twenty years later about being shocked at seeing bomb sites and impressed by the public’s resilience. She has telling and sometimes cutting reactions to the King and Queen, whom she likes; Churchill, whom she doesn’t; Queen Mary, who reminds her of her own gorgon mother-in-law; and General Eisenhower, whom she badgers about the state of soldiers’ socks.
Skilbeck structures the stream of consciousness so Eleanor can wander into other more personal topics, such as the purely business arrangement that was her marriage and, discretely, the fact that her most intense emotional relationship was with another woman.
As a performer Skilbeck makes no real attempt to impersonate Eleanor in appearance, voice, accent or mannerisms, choosing instead to create the character from the inside as a woman born into a comfortable but emotionally stunted patrician class who discovered both a social conscience and a capacity for deep feelings only as an adult.
For many people this is ancient history and the main value of the piece will be an introduction to the woman. For those who remember or know of Mrs Roosevelt, Skilbeck’s writing and performance create a believable and sympathetic characterisation.