The Irish Mail on Sunday
(New Theatre until May 31) is a one-woman show about a remarkable woman, given a captivating performance by Alison Skilbeck. Eleanor Roosevelt was controversial, before and after becoming the president’s wife, for her life-long political and social activitism on behalf of women and humanitarian causes. She supported black civil rights when it was both unfashionable and dangerous.
She was tall, described by her own father as ‘gawky, toothy and plain’, and had none of the usual First Lady glamour. But that never stopped her crusading, which might account for her five children having a total of 19 marriages between them.
The play is set during her wartime visit to London, meeting royalty, politicians and workers, always expressing her opinions forcefully. It includes flashbacks to her childhood, her domineering mother-inlaw, her inspiring teacher while a student in England, and her determination not to waste her life, having seen the effects of alcohol on her family.
And it covers the emotional support she received in her relationship with the journalist Lorena Hickok that she never had in her marriage.
Skilbeck, using Eleanor’s own writings, softens the austere image with humour and the whole show is meticulously produced and directed, with minimum props and clever use of sound and lighting.