A LADY OF LITTLE SENSE
by Lope de Vega translated by David Johnston.
Ustinov Studio Theatre Royal Sawclose BA1 1ET In rep to 21 December 2013.
2.30pm 7, 11, 19 Dec.
7.45pm 25, 28, 29 Nov, 4, 11, 16, 21 Dec.
8pm 14 Dec.
Post-show Discussion 28 Nov.
TICKETS: 01225 448844.
then Arcola Theatre 24 Ashwin Street Dalston E8 3DL IUn rep 11 January-14 March 2014.
7.30pm 11, 27 Jan-1 Feb, 17-22 Feb, 10-14 March.
2.30pm 1, 22 Feb.
TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.
then Belgrade Theatre (B2) Belgrade Square CV1 1GS In rep 26 March-17 April 2014.
7.30pm 26, 31 March, 1, 10, 12, 16, 17 Apr.
2.15pm 5, 9 Apr.
TICKETS: 024 7655 3055
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 21 November.
Domestic laughs and thoughtfulness from Spain’s Golden age.
Actors can never be sure what will happen when they step in front of an audience. They might get shot – fortunately extremely rare, and not at all called for here. But the impact of lines they shoot at audience members and the collisions between character and audience can be varied and unpredictable.
I doubt Lawrence Boswell’s excellent revival of Lope de Vega’s 1613 comedy would have struck me as it did had I not been reading Maggie O’Farrell’s recent novel Instructions for a Heatwave, with its troublesome girl who grows into a troubled adult, all from being unable to read.
As is Lope’s Finea, whose sister Nise is the bright and beautiful one. Wooers flock to her, but their father Otavio has evened-up their prospects by offering Finea’s fianceé four times the fortune.
Taming of the Shrew parallels may arise for English theatregoers, though the situation could be a traditional comic trope. But, Heatwave in mind, laughing at someone whose illiteracy is part of a general childishness of mind is uncomfortable.
Between them, Lope, sparky translator David Johnston and Boswell allow for this. Once lovers come, Finea – admittedly suddenly, in the space of an interval – matures into a sensible, well-composed lady. When the comic plot requires her to act foolish again, Frances McNamee generates a sharply-felt pain at having to mimic what’s become, for her, a twilight state.
It’s a moment making for a disorientation similar to that in Life is a Dream by Lope’s great dramatic contemporary Calderon. And there’s a delicious satisfaction in the way Finea’s final trick combines childish logic with a sophisticated sense of punning to achieve the outcome she wants for her life.
Impossible, too, for the audience not to want it, watching McNamee’s development of Finea’s personality in her new state. Her sister Nise is less detailed, without the shadings suggested in comments made about her early on.
But, with Mark Bailey’s three-play set adapted to suggest an affluent domestic warmth with curtains, and under Ben Ormerod’s gold-tinged lighting, this is a splendidly enjoyable, well-acted revival, at times hectically comic, at others piercingly moving.
Liseo: Simon Scardifield.
Turin/Duardo: Chris Andrew Mellon.
Leandro/Feniso/Pedro: Doug Rao.
Otavio: William Hoyland.
Miseno/Rufino/Dance Master: Jim Bywater.
Nise: Katie Lightfoot.
Celia: Annie Hemingway.
Finea: Frances McNamee.
Clara: Hedydd Dylan.
Laurencio: Nick Barber.
Director: Laurence Boswell.
Designer/Costume: Mark Bailey.
Lighting: Ben Ormerod.
Sound/Composer: Jon Nicholls.
Choreographer/Movement: Lucy Cullingford.
Fight director: Terry King.
Assistant director: Genevieve Raghu.
Associate lighting: Anthony Arblaster.