IF Finea (The Lady of Little Sense) was a 20th century child she’d be diagnosed with behavioural issues, prescribed Ritalin and sent to a school for special needs.
But, happily for the audience at Bath’s Ustinov Theatre, in Lope de Vega’s play, translated by David Johnston and directed by Laurence Boswell, she is leaping and swooping about the stage for all to see.
La Dama Boba, written in 1613 (about 20 years after The Taming of the Shrew, with which it shares some elements) focuses on Otavio’s daughters Finea and Nise, as different as chalk and cheese. The elder, Finea, has inherited her uncle’s fortune, but she is legendarily stupid. Nise, on the other hand, is arrogant, intellectual, cultured and rude.
Poor Don Otavio thinks he’s been doubly cursed, at the same time as spewing out the sort of sexist opinions that would have been prosecuted by the politically correct thought police years ago.
In many ways de Vega’s play is richer and more entertaining than Shakespeare’s, offering a tantalising back story for both Finea and her greedy suitor, Laurencio.
It all starts as Liseo arrives in Madrid to marry Finea, but at the gates of the city is told by a retreating lordling that she is stupid beyond description. He soon discovers the truth of the warning, and decides he’d rather have the younger, poorer sister.
While Finea is driving her tutors to drink with her extraordinary inability to learn anything, Nise is scarifying her suitors with critiques of their poetical endeavours. Her only predilection is for Laurencio, but his fortunes are so depleted that he’s decided to pretend to woo Finea to get the money.
Enter The Power of Love – all that’s needed to unlock Finea’s addled brain. And then there’s the question of why the older sister locked herself away from everyone except her friend and servant Clara?
It is a marvellously complex character given a magnificent performance by Frances McNamee in the title role, with the unfortunate Katie Lightfoot (who never seems to get her man in this trilogy) as the patronising Nise.
As well as the sumptuous costumes and cleverly florid translation which retains the stock characters’ traditional and contemporary comments, Boswell has introduced tempestuous dance to the proceedings.
This production, one of a trio entitled The Spanish Golden Age, is on at the Ustinov until 21st December – with all three in one day on Saturday 14th December!
I would strongly advise seeing them all, but if you can only manage one, A Lady of Little Sense perhaps encapsulates the spirit of the Golden Age in the most entertaining way.