Mrs Roosevelt Flies to London opens in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis as Eleanor Roosevelt rouses herself from sleep to share her fears over what is to become of the world. This particular crisis prompts her to jump back in time to another “brink”, during the Second World War, when she was forced to act as the “eyes, ears and legs” of her husband, disabled US president Franklin D Roosevelt.
This is a one-person show, but it doesn’t feel that way as actor Alison Skilbeck re-enacts Eleanor and her husband driving through the bomb-damaged streets of London, witnessing the devastation at first hand. Donning her feathered hat, Skilbeck movingly portrays Eleanor setting forth on a succession of benevolent outings with dogged determination. And there's humour here too, in the shape of Eleanor's imitations of members of the British royal family, with whom she made, she says, "valient attempts at conversation". You can well believe that Queen Mary and this fiercely independent American weren't exactly suited for small talk.
We learn of Eleanor’s unhappy childhood as the daughter of an alcoholic, early hardship that she channels into a zeal for reform. We're right there with her, cheering her along as she secures a prestigious job with the newly-created United Nations. It’s good to see Eleanor Roosevelt getting a voice through this show, even if it has taken rather a long time to happen. It feels like it was worth the wait.