wed 19/06/2024

Being Mr Wickham, Jermyn Street Theatre review - the plausible, charming roué gives his version of events 30 years on | reviews, news & interviews

Being Mr Wickham, Jermyn Street Theatre review - the plausible, charming roué gives his version of events 30 years on

Being Mr Wickham, Jermyn Street Theatre review - the plausible, charming roué gives his version of events 30 years on

Adrian Lukis revisits his disruptive character from the BBC adaptation of 'Pride and Prejudice'

Mr Wickham (Adrian Lukis) ruminates on his life over a glass of wineJames Findlay

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an actor tends to take a sympathetic view of the character he inhabits, however morally questionable. Adrian Lukis, who played the handsome, roguish militiaman, George Wickham, in Andrew Davies's (still delightful) 1995 adaptation of Jane Austen's most popular novel, is no exception.

Looking back 30 years later at how Wickham was treated in Pemberley and Longbourn, Lukis allows him to put his own spin on events then and to give a glimpse of what he has made of life subsequently.

Jane Austen's characters are so vivid they frequently jump off the page into sequels in books and on screen. PD James's Death Comes to Pemberley (itself adapted for television) may be the best-known follow-up to Pride and Prejudice, but it is one of many guesses about what might have happened to Lizzy, Darcy and the Longbourn family before and after the happy conclusion of Austen's novel. Others include – in books, movies and television series – everything from the imagined diaries of Lizzy and Darcy and more tales of naughty Lydia and prissy Mary Bennett, to a mash-up of the novel with Zombies, and echoes in Bridget Jones's Diary. It seems only fair that Wickham have his say. And Adrian Lukis, who is also the writer here, does him proud, giving us a twinkly, witty, unrepentant storyteller with a talent for painting descriptive pictures, whether of Byron or Waterloo.

The title, Being Mr Wickham, could be taken to refer to the actor's playing of him. Although Adrian Lukis has had a wide-ranging career over the intervening years in theatre (including The Price with David Suchet), film (Judy) and television (The Crown, SAS: Rogue Heroes), he is still associated with wicked Wickham. Lukis remains in character throughout, but there are parallels between the two, notably the irritating fact of aging. And, after all, the Wickham we encounter on his 60th birthday is a version of Lukis's glamorous young soldier from the television adaptation. We know him already from when he was relishing the effects of his charm on all the young women he encountered, especially Elizabeth Bennett and later her flighty sister Lydia.

Adrian Lukis as Mr Wickham in Being Mr Wickham (c) James FindlayThe older Wickham still has charm and, as before, he is comfortable in who he is. He is still married to Lydia, with whom he eloped so shockingly, because, he says, they complement each other being equally brash, boorish and vain. It's difficult to imagine that Lydia could be so brutally honest about herself. Despite marital scraps he has remained more or less faithful to the youngest Bennett girl who, he claims, has never given up her penchant for a chap in uniform. He provides his version of Darcy's revelations about his dissolute life and his behaviour towards Mr Darcy senior and Darcy's young sister Georgiana (whom he claims to have genuinely loved), blithely telling us we can choose whether to believe him or not. Towards Darcy himself he remains – not surprisingly – ungenerous, even claiming he won Elizabeth Bennett by vilifying him, his childhood friend. It is another, more brutal, person from his early years, however, on whom he takes the ultimate revenge without a single scruple.

Wickham ranges over his own rebellious history from harsh schooldays on, and revisits his experience of major events and personalities of the Georgian years – notably Byron, the one person he would have liked to be. Needless to say, he mourns the arrival of the straitlaced Victorian era.

Guy Unsworth directs for Original Theatre while Max Pappenheim provides a discreetly atmospheric score. Designer Libby Watson's set is part of a tall, mirrored Georgian room, once genteel but now a grubby lair where Wickham contemplates age over a glass of claret. Intermittently he enjoys gleefully peering through the window at a young woman eloping with her beau: someone else has the courage to escape the clutches of respectability. For himself, he is satisfied that he has lived life to the full.

Being Mr Wickham began life during the Covid lockdown. An hour long and as charming as its subject, it has already been seen in various formats, around the UK and in Australia and New York. There is no reason to suppose that it won't have yet further lives after its run in Jermyn Street.

@heathermneill

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