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How Love Is Spelt at Southwark Playhouse | Review

Michelle Collins in How Love Is Spelt credit Ali Wright.
Michelle Collins in How Love Is Spelt credit Ali Wright.

How Love is Spelt is a bitter-sweet play, written by Chloe Moss in 2004, about twenty-year-old Peta who has come to London looking for romance, friendship and for exciting people to lead her on to big adventures, but she can only afford to live in a rather squalid bed-sit which doesn’t even have a proper bed!

The play is structured into five scenes, Peta taking the central role in each.

This is a massive role for Larner Wallace-Taylor, and she is quite superb, making the most and perhaps more of the slightly dated dialogue. Not only does she look the role, especially facially, but she is also very natural and we very quickly believe in her.

In the first scene, we meet Joe, thirty-two, played by Benjamin O’Mahony who is the very embodiment of a one-night stand boyfriend, desperate for a long-term relationship, and unable to see why he can’t get one. His vocabulary consists mainly of four-letter words, and he is clearly what Peta does not want.

Steven, thirty, appears in Scene Two as a rather weak history teacher that Peta has ‘picked up’. He has only ever had one girlfriend – “She wanted spontaneity, adventure… I said I can be spontaneous… I just need a little bit of time to plan”. Duncan Moore is very believable in this role – we really do sympathise with him: he lacks any romantic and social skills!

In Scene Three we meet Chantelle, beautifully portrayed by Yana Penrose. She has drunk too much and feels awful – and drinking by yourself is not a good thing. As with the previous scenes, nothing is resolved by the time she leaves Peta’s bed-sit.

Scene Four shows us Peta curled up on the sofa bed. She has been collected from the stairs where she collapsed dead drunk by forty-nine-year-old Marion, portrayed by Michelle Collins. This is a real tour-de-force of performance, very subtle and concentrated, with charismatic use of the hands and a ‘non’ facial expression. This scene is the strongest in the play, owing to the chemistry between the two actors – very believable.

In the final scene we meet Colin, who is visiting London in order to persuade Peta to return home. He has not read the letter she left him and therefore cannot begin to understand her. Nigel Boyle is excellent in this role, especially as the scene is, unfortunately, the weakest of the five – much of what both are asked to say is unconvincing.

The play has been set on a thrust stage in the intimate ‘Little’ auditorium at Southwark, so that the audience form three walls of Peta’s bed-sit, Georgia de Grey having designed a very believable room which includes suspect stains on the ancient carpet.

The main reason for seeing this well-directed (Charlotte Peters) play is for the high quality of the acting which transcends much of the weakness in the writing. As for the meaning of the title? Well, you will have to see the play to find out: it is explained!

4 stars

Review by John Groves

She wanted spontaneity, adventure… I said I can be spontaneous… I just need a little bit of time to plan.”
Peta is new in town and ready for whatever London has to throw at her. She’s looking for romance, for friendship, for exciting people to lead her on big adventures. But being an independent woman in the new millennium isn’t easy, especially when there’s a constant reminder of the life you’re trying to escape.

With each new encounter, Peta flirts with what might have been, but has the journey to London put enough distance between her and her past?

Creative Team
Director – Charlotte Peters
Designer – Georgia de Grey
Sound Designer – Jon McLeod
Lighting Designer – Rory Beaton

Nigel Boyle
Michelle Collins
Duncan Moore
Benjamin O’Mahony
Yana Penrose
Larner Wallace-Taylor

Listings Information
Wednesday, 4 – Saturday, 28 September 2019
Southwark Playhouse
77-85 Newington Causeway
London SE1 6BD


  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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