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In a delicately ornate set, sprinkled in candlelight, Adrian Lukis and Catherine Curzon carefully construct a classy tale rooted in traditional masculinity. With an intricate monologue, we follow the journey through tumbling boyhood and into a distinguished gentleman. It remains an uncanny thing to see so many empty rows in a theatre, but Lukis brings the space to life with his lively delivery alongside a chirpy piano score.
Mr George Wickham is a personable old fellow, reminiscing on his past and selfhood. Embedded in the fibres of this coming-of-age narrative is a pleasant fondness for tearaways and misfits. We are reminded of the necessity of naughtiness and how sometimes a rascal is exactly what a story needs to flourish. In terms of writing, it’s a skillful progression from the tropes of reminiscence. When it comes down to it, what’s more enthralling than hearing of a gaggle of rowdy schoolboys pissing on their schoolmaster’s rug? I felt the offhand references to abuse and addiction were misplaced, perhaps lacking the engagement that could really harness emotional attachment. I imagine these areas could easily be reworked to unveil the depth of pain which exists behind them and how a troubled young boy evolves into the burdened old man.
George Wickham progresses from child-like desires of overthrowing a teacher to the throes of young love. As heteronormative as this narrative is, it is pleasant and enticing. “A young man’s promise is like breath on the wind,” is the overarching message carried in the dreamy flows between new lovers. All of the women are marked by the male gaze as we have only George as reference for the romantic encounters. This narrative is relatively harmless in this context and the presentation of women through his eyes is soft and admiring. It is always enticing to find women depicted in a flatteringly genuine light where their traits and thoughts fuel their motivations.
This is a sleepy performance to enjoy while tucked under a blanket. Lukis’ impressive stamina holds together the structure of the show as we move through tales of love and loss. Rather than an assertion of direct testosterone fuelled manhood we are met with incredibly tender writing, dreaming of a time, “When our young days of gathering flowers will be a hundred years ago.” If you’re looking for something to curl up in bed to, this piece will envelop you in a warm and gentle feeling.
‘Being Mr Wickham’ played online from the 30 April to 1 May. For more information, see Theatre Royal online.