l-r Larner Wallace-Taylor and Yana Penrose in How Love Is Spelt. Photo: Ali Wright
The familiarity of the setting and also, at least initially, the plot of Chloë Moss’s beguiling 2004 play may lead the audience to make assumptions but Moss is at least one step ahead of us and expectations are deftly overturned in an enigmatic and poignant final scene. And so, what could come across as simply a sequence of near-anonymous encounters proves to be both more complex and more subtle.
Peta, a childlike young woman, has moved from Liverpool to London. Is she trying to forget her past or to find her future? Or is something else entirely going on? In an outstanding central performance, Larner Wallace-Taylor keeps the audience guessing. By turns vulnerable and forceful, Wallace-Taylor is compelling, barely off stage and, as was clear from the curtain call, exhausted in every sense by the emotional highs and lows of the play.
The acting of all of the cast is of a very high standard especially Benjamin O’Mahony’s hilarious Joe, an oafish hod carrier with the attention span of a goldfish, and Michelle Collins as Peta’s lonely but perceptive neighbour. Others in the cast are Yana Penrose, as an upbeat clubber whose encounter with Peta is perhaps the most optimistic, and Duncan Moore as a teacher with concerns of his own.
However, while the acting is first rate, some aspects of the production are less successful, in particular the scenes between the scenes which unhelpfully suggest that the majority of the play may be a fantasy, a misjudgment that would scupper the production if the acting were not so strong. But other than this, Southwark Playhouse’s revival is excellent and especially well lit – good work from Rory Beaton, the lighting designer.
Larner Wallace-Taylor and Michelle Collins in How Love Is Spelt. Photo: Ali Wright