Review: Being Mr Wickham (Original Theatre)

If you are an Austen fan of a certain age, you are sure to have watched the 1995 Andrew Davies adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

George Wickham is now sixty. His story is reimagined by performer Adrian Lukis (no longer the lean young rogue we saw in the TV adaptation, but still loquacious) and Regency expert Catherine Curzon.

Directed by Guy Unsworth, Lukis takes to the stage live from the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds. The action is set facing away from the auditorium’s empty seats, so they become an in-period part of the show.

Wickham chats to the virtual audience with ease, giving his own account of his childhood and conflict with Mr Darcy, and what has happened in the intervening three decades. Surprisingly, his marriage to Lydia is still solid, albeit “when Lydia is happy I am happy, when Lydia is sleeping I am delighted”.

Historical figures (Byron, Brummell) rub shoulders with the Bennet, Bingley, Darcy, Collins and Wickham families as a story as unreliable as Austen’s original unfolds.

If you wondered about the fate of Kitty Bennet, or about whether the next generation of Bennets inherited their grandfather’s pragmatism or grandmother’s meddling, this is for you.

Although Austen never really acknowledged wars in her time, she did have military men across her novels, so there is no surprise Wickham’s career in uniform led him to the battlefield of Waterloo.

As this is a one-person show, we only have one perspective on events, and whether this exile from town who drinks a bit and gets his only excitement from watching what his neighbours are up to is reliable is left for us to judge.

Being Mr Wickham is a lovely idea, bringing the character back played by the same actor. We are not just seeing the change in Wickham, but in Lukis’s portrayal: he clearly has a close affinity with the character (and certainly those of us of the right age will forever associate him with the role), and fits back into it perfectly.

The writing is detailed, catty, gossipy, and betrays both the pride of prejudice of the elderly Wickham. The historical colour is nicely added, but not overdone, and I was fascinated by the script and the staging throughout.

If you are not an Austen fan, or not familiar with Lukis’s Wickham, you may not have the same level of enjoyment I did, but I think you will still have a good time in the company of a gifted actor and his charming bad boy raconteur.

Being Mr Wickham streams live on 1 May at 3pm and 7.30pm. The play runs 1 hour and is followed by a Q&A: book your ticket here. If you miss it today, there are plans to make it available on demand in due course.

Images by James Findlay.

LouReviews received complimentary access to review Being Mr Wickham.

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