Bath’s Theatre Royal and Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre have joined forces. They continue their admirable season of plays from Spain’s Golden Age (1590 to 1681 approx) with a farce, which the prodigious Lope de Vega wrote in 1613.
A father (William Hoyland) has two daughters, both beautiful. Nise (Katie Lightfoot), the eldest, is far too intelligent and arrogant. Finea (the blazing Frances McNamee), the younger, is far too stupid. Which would you prefer to marry? The attraction of the latter is her very large dowry. Which would you like: the money or the intelligence? You will have to join the queue for either sister. There are a number of suitors.
Finea is presented in such a stupid light – she can’t read the alphabet; she can’t tell the difference between a portrait and a real person; she knows nothing about sexual matters; she behaves in a very childish and vulgar manner; she looks quite mad – you might think she must be autistic. To laugh at her ignorance and appalling behaviour might seem cruel.
During the course of the play, Finea is transformed by love. She is a completely different person after the interval. She is suddenly intelligent, well-behaved and clever enough to fool her father and the suitor she does not want to marry.
There is a fine ensemble of actors and the farce gets a lively and handsomely costumed production from Laurence Boswell, an expert on the period.
Simon Scardifield as the not-so-bright suitor who keeps transferring his affections from one daughter to another is funny. Doug Rao does a remarkably quick-change.
If you only want to see one of the three plays in the repertoire, then the choice will depend on whether you want see a tragedy (Punishment Without Revenge) or a farce (A Lady of Little Sense).
Punishment Without Revenge is the best play