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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows. And we take the opportunity to explore other vintage productions preserved online. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.

Being Mr Wickham
Original Theatre Online   Spring 2022

A one-hour monologue play by Adrian Lukis and Catherine Curzon, here performed by Lukis, Being Mr Wickham belongs to the familiar genre of the literary classic as seen by a minor character.

The prime example of the mode is, of course, Stoppard's Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead, but it also includes such solo shows as Tim Crouch's I Cinna The Poet, which we reviewed earlier this year.

Turning a familiar work inside-out can illuminate, alter or parody it. In this case it really doesn't do much of any of those things.

A quick reminder for those whose memory of Pride And Prejudice may have faded: Wickham is a dashing young military officer who impresses heroine Elizabeth Bennet, so that his warnings about fellow officer Darcy shape her prejudice against him.

Ultimately Wickham is exposed as the villain (in part through seducing Elizabeth's sister Lydia), everything he said against Darcy is refuted, and Darcy emerges as the hero (in part by making Wickham marry Lydia and providing them an income out of his own fortune).

Lukis and Curzon's first (and just about only) re-imagining of the story is to present Wickham, now 60, as an amiable and generally contented man.

He and Lydia proved well matched in their shallowness and enjoyment of simple pleasures, their marriage has been a happy one, and if he has any bitter memories they are all of his pre-Austen youth.

(Austen herself, in imagining Wickham's early life as poor dependant in the rich Darcy family, probably drew on Fielding's Tom Jones; Lukis and Curzon dip into Dickens's Nicholas Nickleby for the nightmare school Wickham here remembers being sent to while Darcy was luxuriating at Eton.)

The playwrights offer very little more in the form of footnotes or gloss on Pride And Prejudice beyond the mild surprise of Wickham's general contentment. It certainly takes no stretch of imagination to picture the younger Darcy as a bit of a prig and Goody Two-Shoes;

Wickham has nothing to add to Austen's picture of the other characters, and he doesn't even mention (and does little more than mention) Elizabeth until three-quarters of the way through.

What we get, then, is not a re-imagining of Austen but an almost generic Garrulous Old Coot, the kind you might encounter in any pub, mildly amusing for a while but ultimately a bore you seek for ways to escape.

As a performer Adrian Lukis uses all his skill and considerable personal charm to disguise how very little he and Curzon as writers gave him to work with. But you are likely to come away from Being Mr Wickham vaguely disappointed that there was less there than you anticipated.

As with all Original Theatre videos, the recording is polished and professional, though staging it in a vacant theatre, with the empty auditorium frequently in shot and the furnishing obvious stage sets, seems an irrelevant director's invention imposed on the material.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Being Mr Wickham - Original Theatre Online 2022