Writer: Adrian Lukis and Catherine Curzon
Director: Guy Unsworth
For many Jane Austen enthusiasts, the 1995 serialisation of Pride and Prejudice remains the gold standard for television adaptations. Consequently, the actors and their portrayals have enjoyed unusual longevity in the audience’s memory. This is an essential part of the success of this one-man play, conceived, co-written and performed by Adrian Lukis, who played the rakish George Wickham, the louche adventurer whose plausible portrayal was an important part of the dynamic between the leading characters.
The play presents the character at 60, lamenting the inevitable impact of time on his handsome face and figure, whilst filling in what has happened in the intervening period. It also provides more back story from his early years and his perspective on the events of the book. Along the way, it introduces some real historical figures of the period, as a way of contextualising Wickham and his behaviour, lest we judge him by modern standards of probity alone.
From his first entrance, Lukis engages the audience, apparently effortlessly. They recognise him, of course, and he needs to expend little effort to establish the character. The irrepressible Wickham has been celebrating his birthday and has angered his wife by paying too much attention to another woman. Locked out of the bedchamber, he settles down to polish off a good claret and to entertain the audience.
Lukis’ portrayal is, quite simply, flawless. It is a masterclass in holding an audience for an hour on just a simple set with his own voice and presence. As well as the inevitable humour, Lukis captures more dramatic events with real power and authority. It is, perhaps, in his description of an imagined encounter with Byron that he is at his most mesmerising. He understands this character and the times in which he would have lived and develops him in an entirely plausible way. Though he makes some slight apology for his actions he remains, unsurprisingly, chiefly unrepentant. After all, he asks, which of us is perfect?
The writing is excellent; fluid, literate and engaging. Lukis and his co-writer, Catherine Curzon, have seamlessly interwoven the events of the book, imagined incidents from Wickham’s childhood and credible speculation as to how life would have played out for Austen’s characters. The update on the Bennett and Darcy families is both amusing and believable.
The pace never flags and Guy Unsworth’s unobtrusive direction seems to have provided the perfect mirror to help Lukis polish his consummate portrayal. The pleasantly shabby set by Libby Watson, Johanna Town’s lighting design and Max Pappenheim’s sound are perfect complements.
An entertaining question and answer session with Lukis provides interesting insight into the development of the play and some intriguing potential plot lines that didn’t make it into the final version.
This is a polished and hugely enjoyable production that goes well beyond merely revisiting Pride and Prejudice’s charming scoundrel. It should be widely seen and following this short tour, deserves to be followed by a London transfer.
Runs until 12th October 2021