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Being Mr Wickham, Belgrade Theatre: Review

Being Mr Wickham, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Sep 30-Oct 2.

By Barbara Goulden The Regency period has ended, Queen Victoria is on the throne and it's 30 years since Jane Austen's classic novel Pride and Prejudice ends with Elizabeth Bennet finally overlooking the awkward arrogance of the fabulously wealthy Mr Darcy. But what happens next? Well in true Married At First Sight style, nobody would have expected Elizabeth's giddy youngest sister Lydia to still be the wife of that red-coated rascal George Wickham. Nobody that is except the actor Adrian Lukis, who played Wickham in the BBC adaptation of the novel, and has speculated with playwright Catherine Curzon on the three decades that follow. Sitting in his smoking jacket on stage at The Belgrade, Wickham is taking solace in a jug of "claret" after being locked out of the bedroom by Lydia. They've just returned from a ball where it seems he danced a little too closely with another lady. This has led to a chamber pot being hurled against the wall. Only those accustomed to great wealth can afford high morals, reasons George, on the eve of his 60th birthday. After battles like Waterloo, the rest of us just have to find a way to survive. And above all, not become boring. The poet Byron is his idol. Adrian Lukis chose The Belgrade for his first post-Covid outing as part of his one-man, ten-stop national tour. Before attending this performance, I thought I could already predict all the answers he would give for Wickham's behaviour; his excuses; his self-pity; his flirtations and debts as a soldier in Wellington's army. Instead, we see his self-mocking love of life despite the cards not being dealt in his favour. After all, he and Darcy are brought up almost like brothers. But while Darcy is educated at Eton, Wickham is sent to an abusive boarding school on Dartmoor....not that it's any excuse for trying to run away with Darcy's sister Georgiana. Still in the chamber outside his locked bedroom door, Wickham pours yet another glass of claret before receiving a summons to come inside. We've been with him for little more than an hour as he poses the question: "How can any story survive without rascals?" An unexpectedly fascinating evening in the theatre.

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