“She is as thick as potato mash”
The remit of the Spanish Golden Age rep season, a co-production between Arcola Theatre, the Ustinov Studio, Theatre Royal Bath, and the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry, is to bring to light three rarely performed plays from what they term “the last unopened treasure chest of world drama”. But whilst the academic interest of delving into this cultural period is undoubtable, the quality of the drama uncovered feels variable.
Lope de Vega’s A Lady of Little Sense, or La Dama Boba from 1613, is a romantic comedy whose tales of the arranged marriages of two sisters recalls The Taming of the Shrew. Wealthy businessman Don Octavio has two beautiful daughters to marry off but the educated Nise has an arrogance to match her intelligence and her sister Finea is as dopey as they come – the suitors that come to take their hands thus have to decide the lesser of two evils.
The matter is ameliorated by Octavio settling a large dowry on Finea which improves her appeal no end, not least to the avaricious Laurencio who ends his pursuit of Nise in exchange for Finea’s filthy lucre, unprepared for the effect that the love of a man will have on this ditzy woman. It’s a sentiment of its time and so lacks any real refinement in its gender studies, the transformative power of love only works on women according to de Vega.
But Laurence Boswell’s production finds its strengths early on and plays them to the best of their ability. Frances McNamee is sparklingly good as Finea, executing a delightful journey from airhead to adult, somehow finding pathos as well as comedy in the writing, translated here by David Johnston. Contrasted well against Katie Lightfoot’s fearsome Nise, and Nick Barber and Simon Scardifield as their dutiful suitors, the performances make it a better show than on the page.