Writers: Adrian Lukis and Catherine Curzon
Director: Guy Unsworth
As readers of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel, Pride and Prejudice – or indeed, viewers of any of the many adaptations – will know, Mr Wickham is an utter cad. Oozing superficial charm, he grooms Lydia, the youngest and most impressionable of the Bennet sisters, ultimately persuading her to run away with him but with no offer of marriage, thus ensuring her exclusion from polite society. Mr Darcy persuades him to do the right thing not by an appeal to Wickham’s better nature, but by a bribe – Darcy agrees to pay his, Wickham’s, debts and thus Lydia and Wickham are married, and Lydia and the family’s honour are safeguarded. But are our first impressions of Wickham accurate?
Adrian Lukis has been associated with Wickham since playing him opposite Colin Firth’s Darcy in the 1995 BBC adaptation. Wondering what might have happened to Wickham, Lukis joined with Catherine Curzon and the Original Theatre Company to create this monologue. It’s Wickham’s 60th birthday – he’s as surprised as anyone that he has made it this far – and the obvious time to look back and reflect.
What we get is a finely judged performance of a man past his best but still with a rakish gleam in his eye. As Lukis enters the simple period set, even before he speaks, Wickham is a commanding, if condescending, presence. As the evening moves on we learn that Lydia is still alive and still sparky. Indeed, their celebratory evening has been cut short because of Wickham’s still wandering eye and Lydia’s jealousy. The mood is reflective, mostly, as Wickham describes how he and Darcy met and grew up – always almost, but not quite, equals in the eyes of Darcy’s father. There are insights, too, into Darcy’s character as well as Wickham’s as incidents from their shared pasts are recounted.
Incidents are related with real people to add verisimilitude – he mourns the death of Regency courtesan, Harriette Wilson, and recalls an invented occasion involving her and Lord Byron, for example. We also learn of friendships forged in a harsh school environment and ending tragically. This is a rounded Wickham, one fully three-dimensional, one who asks for our understanding – supported by his charm and gentle, dry, wry wit. Indeed, there are occasions when, almost against one’s will, one can’t help but laugh out loud at the believable anecdotes he shares.
Under the directorial hand of Guy Unsworth, the well-written and natural monologue comes to life with mood changes aplenty – Wickham’s delight at observing a neighbour’s antics is quite infectious even as the mood turns more subdued, maybe even maudlin at times. The lighting scheme is simple, and a subtle soundscape ebbs and flows to support the moods.
Overall, a triumph for Lukis and the whole creative team – while we may not be able to condone Wickham’s past behaviour, we can, maybe, begin to understand it and see him as a real person with all his flaws, and understand his drivers.
Runs until 2 October 2021 and touring