Being Mr Wickham review – Jane Austen’s cad meanders into old age

Those who watched Andrew Davies’ 1995 TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice might still have Colin Firth’s Darcy, dripping his way out of a lake, branded in their memory. Starring alongside him in the series was Adrian Lukis as George Wickham, who returns here to tell us what became of him after his shenanigans at Pemberley and Longbourn. This one-act, hour-long monologue written and performed by Lukis imagines Jane Austen’s charming cad, with whom Lydia Bennet scandalously eloped, in his drawing room aged 60.

Jane again … Adrian Lukis in Being Mr Wickham. Photograph: James Findlay

In a production directed by Guy Unsworth, Wickham sits, gets up to look out of the window and sits back down to sip wine and burble amicably in reminiscence. We learn, unsurprisingly, that he disliked Darcy as a boy and was held in awe by the sight of uber rake Lord Byron at the theatre. More surprisingly, Lydia is still his wife. There are some melancholic ruminations on the battle of Waterloo and a twist in Darcy’s early betrayal of him. He also reflects on a murderous act, but it is a line in passing that, like the others, is not built on. The musings are nicely written, smoothly performed and carry potential to grow into a fully fledged story but they are left as meanderings that do not lead anywhere in particular.

Austen’s original Wickham is deeply problematic – a self-serving, duplicitous user who is dangerous enough to dazzle even the canny Elizabeth, who admires his looks and manners. But Lukis’s portrait is unwilling to explore the turbulent waters beneath his surface charms. Perhaps his character is employing his charm on us for his redemption, but it seems so shallow that it has the effect of an undemanding after-dinner turn.

This is not the first show in which the Wickhams have been given an “after” story: the audio production Mrs Wickham offered a sequel to the book’s shotgun wedding from the point of view of Lydia. This production, from Original Theatre Company, is not as inventive as that. Lukis speaks in exclamations that might be found on a George Wickham themed T-shirt or mug (“Never pay a bill” and “Always know your escape route”), reflects on ageing with homilies (“It comes to us all”) and quips that he is ready to be put out to pasture. Having first appeared online in 2021, before touring the UK, off-Broadway and being staged on a cruise, perhaps the show is ready to be put out to pasture itself.

The Guardian

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