Being Mr Wickham

Adrian Lukis and Catherine Curzon
Original Theatre Company
York Theatre Royal

Adrian Lukis (George Wickham) Credit: James Findlay

Pride and Prejudice, first published in 1813, is one of the nation’s favourite books. However, while the novel is brilliantly written—full of witty social observations and richly sketched characters—I have no doubt that many people were first drawn to Austen’s comedy of manners because of the BBC’s 1995 miniseries, adapted by Andrew Davies.

In this pleasant but rather slight show, actor and co-writer Adrian Lukis returns to his most famous part, the caddish George Wickham. While Colin Firth was the breakout star of the BBC adaptation—in one scene, he famously emerges from a lake sopping wet in a white shirt and breeches—Lukis will forever be linked to Pride and Prejudice’s most villainous character.

But is he really a villain? In Being Mr Wickham, the titular character explains that we are never the antagonist of our own story, and he sets about offering his side of the events which transpire in Austen’s novel.

It’s the eve of Mr Wickham’s sixtieth birthday, and his wife Lydia (the youngest and most reckless of the Bennett sisters) has gone to bed early in a fit of pique after he flirted with another woman at dinner. Despite mellowing over the decades, he remains a scoundrel at heart.

Over the course of an hour, we hear about Wickham’s relationships with the other characters in Pride and Prejudice. Despite his appalling behaviour towards the Darcys and the Bennetts—he attempted to elope with Mr Darcy’s younger sister, Georgiana, and was paid to marry Lydia after the two absconded in Brighton—he now enjoys agreeable relationships with most of the surviving characters. While this seems true to life—youthful enmities are often forgiven in old age—it doesn’t make for particularly thrilling theatre.

Although I appreciate the urge to let Mr Wickham mount a self-defence—hence the story of his difficult upbringing—I feel that writers Adrian Lukis and Catherine Curzon cut him too much slack. I don’t believe for a second that Wickham would have married Lydia without Darcy’s financial inducement, and in the early 19th century this would have turned her into a social pariah, destroying all chances of happiness for her four older sisters.

I don’t wish to sound too negative though because I found the show engaging at times due to Adrian Lukis’s charismatic performance. There is also a pleasing melancholy to the production, with Wickham reflecting on the indignities of old age and reminiscing about his salad days in London.

Reviewer: James Ballands