Review: BEING MR WICKHAM, Jermyn Street Theatre

A wonderful “what if” look into the life of an iconic Austen character

By: Jun. 12, 2024
Review: BEING MR WICKHAM, Jermyn Street Theatre
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Review: BEING MR WICKHAM, Jermyn Street Theatre

“Am I really to cast myself as villain of my own story?”

Written and performed by Adrian Lukis and directed by Guy Unsworth, Being Mr. Wickham brings us into the world of the infamous Pride and Prejudice character after his 60th birthday party, having withdrawn from the festivities to a quiet space. But, suddenly, Wickham looks into the audience, acknowledging us and telling us, “When play stops, old age begins,” beginning the show.

Wickham makes it clear that he knows that we are aware of the events of Pride and Prejudice, but correctly assumes that we have heard it from the perspectives of Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett. But that is no more. Now, it is time for Wickham to tell his own story.

As one might expect in a play about a character from another piece of work, there are plenty of references to Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. We begin the story by learning more about Wickham’s childhood, including how he first met Fitzwilliam Darcy as a child, his father being Mr. Darcy’s manservant. All of these stories have been conceived by Lukis himself, based on what we know from Austen’s work and Lukis’s own research. It is easy to see how the rivalry between Wickham and Darcy began when described to us by Lukis - while wealthy, Darcy is jealous of Wickham’s natural charm, which wins him the affection of many women. 

In one section, Lukis gives the audience updates on the different characters including all of the Bennetts (there are some particularly great bits about Mrs. Bennett that got loud laughs from the audience), the Darcys and even the Bingleys. There are also a few fun quips referring to the fact that Wickham is a character from a fictional story, including the quote, “No novelist could have invented such a torrid scene” when referring to Wickham’s involvement with Georgiana Darcy, the sister of his former friend and current rival. It is also nice to gain more insight into the relationship between Lydia and Wickham, the couple having gone through decades together and still remaining close, with Wickham claiming, “We make each other laugh.” 

Review: BEING MR WICKHAM, Jermyn Street Theatre
Photo Credit: James Findlay

But, while there is a focus on the characters of Pride and Prejudice, there are also some original storylines that Lukis brings into the show, including one in which Wickham is watching his neighbour’s home outside of his window, waiting to see if the family’s daughter will actually abscond with her lover as they have planned (it is unsurprising to know that Wickham has access to gossip, even in a small town).

I was also quite impressed with the amount of research and care that Lukis has put into this show. Of course, there are references to characters in Pride and Prejudice, but Lukis also references some actual people who lived during the Regency and Victorian periods including Harriet Wilson, a notorious courtesan, and Lord Byron, the famed poet, who are brought together in a tale Wickham tells of a night out in Covent Garden. 

The set, designed by Libby Watson, is beautifully detailed and truly allows audiences to feel as though they are inside the home of the Wickhams. It is quite an elaborate set for such a small theatre, going above and beyond to bring audiences into the Regency period. The show is also enhanced by its lighting, designed by Johanna Town, and its sound, designed by Max Pappenheim. There tends to be music playing or sounds coming from Wickham’s memory, with the sounds getting to be the loudest between the different scenes, filling the silence as Lukis takes a drink. 

By the end of the show, Lukis may have won over even some of the most hardcore Pride and Prejudice fans, giving a strong backstory to a hated character who Lukis believes did what he did in order to survive. Wickham has come from a background of poverty and trauma and it is understandable that he would take advantage of the opportunities given to him by the situation with the Bennetts. Wickham acknowledges his flaws but still defends his actions, including some surprising moments invented by Lukis to dramatise Wickham’s life. 

Being Mr. Wickham is a wonderful “what if” look into the life of an iconic Austen character. It is clear that Lukis cares about Wickham and has done his research on not only Austen but the Regency period as a whole, making for a lovely show for not only Pride and Prejudice fans but those looking for a peek into the period.

Read our interview with Adrian Lukis about his development of the character here.

Being Mr Wickham runs until 22 June at the Jermyn Street Theatre.


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