In a revival of Chloe Moss’s 2004 play How Love is Spelt, we find 20 year old Peta in London. Living in a run down bedsit (carpet stains included), Peta is looking for friendship, romance and adventure and doesn’t find in a succession of short relationships and drunken nights, writes Susan Hallissey. 

It’s the morning after as Joe emerges from the duvet on the sofa bed they shared. This is one of the most vibrant and energetic scenes purely down to the hilarious Benjamin O’Mahony as Joe. He would love to see Peta again, however, Peta (Larner Wallace-Taylor) is not so keen. Joe sitting in the bed willing Peta to leave her chair and join him is played with a measured touch of desperation. When things go wrong he is soon gone! This scene was full of laughter and pathos and seemed a promising start. Nevertheless, the next two scenes seemed to lack in drive – they were also a slightly long and a little repetitive.

Duncan Moore plays Steven, the socially inept teacher Peta picked up next and bought back to bedsit land. He delivered his part with aching vulnerability. Peta then rescues Chantelle (Yana Penrose) from a drunken argument with her partner. Chantelle, with the hangover from hell, has a bubbly character and certain verve, but these two scenes could have done with editing. 

As the interval loomed a dreamlike sequence arrived with Peta in an aquarium, the place she has asked each ‘guest’ to visit with her. This felt a little confusing and I wasn’t quite sure if she was lonely, sad or had other issues.

Ali Wright

Act Two saw Michelle Collins as neighbour Marion lift the energy. Again, like the other scenarios, Marion has her own story to tell. Collins gave a powerful performance as someone who wants to help and look after Peta, who has now fallen down the stairs drunk. Humming Peta to sleep felt like a moving end to this episode and the connection worked well.

Finally, Colin turns up. Peta’s partner, who’s beside himself with anger and rage at her disappearance. Nigel Boyle plays this part with grit and realism – it’s a very heavy and real scene. There was a great line that seemed lost, when he relays to Peta that he saw her drunk father and he had given him 50p for her. It ended here with no final resolution, but why should it? 

Peta is the thread that holds this piece together and is on stage throughout. Even so, my issue with the play is that I felt it should have worked but something was missing – or I was being led astray? I couldn’t empathise with Peta and that caused me not to care. Maybe I’ve just got compassion fatigue and am still trying to figure it out! 

Sound performances, some funny and touching scenes but at two hours twenty minutes, just too long!

How Love Is Spelt is on at Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD until 28 September. Times: Monday to Saturdays at 8pm; Tuesday and Saturday matinees at 3.30pm. Admission: £14 £22. Phone: 020 7407 0234

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Photos: Ali Wright