REVIEW: A Lady Of Little Sense at The Ustinov Studio, 4/5, by Steve Wright
WRITTEN in 1613 by Spanish master dramatist Lope de Vega, A Lady Of Little Sense is bound to trigger comparisons with the work of William Shakespeare.
So how does this intricately-plotted comedy stand up to Will's works? In this sprightly new translation by David Johnston, directed by the Ustinov's Laurence Boswell and performed by an engaging cast, the answer is pretty well.
The plot is as convoluted as one of the Bard's more finely-mapped comedies. Liseo is a decent, unshowy and nervous Andalusian aristocrat, heading to Madrid for his arranged marriage to a rich heiress, Finea. On the way, thanks to a passing conversation in a wayside inn, Liseo learns that his betrothed is in fact a simpleton, without learning or conversation. Pity the man condemned to marry her, muses their acquaintance – and Liseo turns quickly from excitement to horror at his impending nuptials.
Arrived in the big city, Liseo meets his bride-to-be – and, to his far greater delight, her clever, witty sister Nise. The latter has her own admirer, the impoverished poet and wit Laurencio. But Laurencio's head is now turned by Finea's dowry and beauty, for which he is prepared to put up with her rambling, witless discourse.
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Johnston's translation is accessibly modern yet poetic, laden with beautiful lines. There are some standout performances, too, chiefly from the two rival suitors. Simon Scardifield is hugely likeable as Liseo – frank, good-hearted and Eeyore-ishly self-pitying, with a clownish abruptness to his speech and movements. Laurencio (Nick Barber) – suave, softly-spoken, gently self-assured – is a fine foil. You will warm most, though, to Finea (Frances McNamee), whose transformation from a childlike, twittering figure, clearly uncomfortable in her own skin, into a confident, proudly-physical woman, is moving.
This is a slick, pacy and enjoyable comedy with some fine performances.