Sunday 9 July 2023

Theatre Review: Being Mr. Wickham, 59E59 Theaters, New York City

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Austenites never tire of new takes on Pride and Prejudice (1813), so last month I joined JASNA NY’s outing to 59E59 Theaters to watch a one-man play about one of the novel’s most infamous characters. 

Being Mr. Wickham brings us George Wickham on his sixtieth birthday, still married to Lydia (nee Bennet) and reminiscing about the dramas of his youth. The play was co-written and performed by Adrian Lukis, who was the young Wickham in the beloved 1995 BBC adaptation of Austen’s novel, so it really did feel like we were all watching a familiar character age before our eyes. 

Revisitations of Pride and Prejudice range from the canonical (see, for example, my review of Janice Hadlow’s 2020 The Other Bennet Sister) to the more daring (check out my review of Katherine J. Chen’s 2018 Mary B), and this one-act play was firmly in the former camp. Audience knowledge of the source material was assumed as Lukis regaled us with updates on what has become of the other characters from the book, but there were no shocking revelations about the original story gained from entering the villain’s perspective. 

The set and sound design were smart, keeping the play visually interesting and giving us musical interludes between parts of the play respectively, and this helped keep the crowd engaged throughout—no small feat in what’s essentially a lengthy monologue. Lydia’s off-stage voice and a side plot about a drama Wickham is watching through the window gave the impression of a world beyond the stage, and I appreciated parts of the script that spoke to the wider historical context around Austen’s novel (e.g., war and politics). 

This is linked to what I found most interesting about the play, which was otherwise merely an entertaining trip down memory lane. Lukis and his co-writer Catherine Curzon turn Wickham into the poster child for the Regency period itself—a lover of romance and Romance, who models himself on Byron, and approaches life with a total dedication to having fun. The character’s frustration at the prudishness of the Victorian age he now finds himself living in was well-done and Lukis’s comments during the after-show conversation suggested he found parallels between Wickham’s reaction to a period of increased sincerity and his own responses to society and the direction the arts is taking today.

Have you watched Being Mr. Wickham, whether in New York or elsewhere? I’d love to know what you thought of it! Let me know what plays with a nineteenth-century connection you’d like to read me review next—in the comments, via Instagram, on Facebook, or by tweeting @SVictorianist. Want monthly updates about my blog and other writing straight to your email inbox? Sign up for my newsletter here.

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