Anyone who is familiar with the work that comes out of the Southwark Playhouse will tend to associate it with new, quirky, upcoming work and writers. Although How Love is Spelt was written and first performed in 2004, this production very much feels as though it has been branded as a new play.
How Love is Spelt is a comedy about independence, loneliness, finding friendship and life.
The show is performed in The Little, a black box studio space; the performance being based on a thrust stage with a very naturalistic London bedsit set which didn’t alter apart from an abstract moment at the very end of the first Act.
The main character Peta – stunningly played by Larner Wallace-Taylor – is such a beautifully intricate and complex individual, yet the play doesn’t give enough detail into her back story to help the audience fully engage with her. The relationships that she has with the strangers whom she brings into her world are fleeting and yet clearly have a lasting impact on her but in a way that isn’t completely transparent to the audience.
Alongside Wallace-Taylor, Michelle Collins as Marion and Duncan Moore as Steven are also outstanding in their performances. Collins portrays the mother figure we’ve all had in our lives, the warm, slightly overbearing, worrying neighbour – and there are moments when you feel such a connection with that familiar matriarchal figure. Moore plays the over-thinking, nervous, coy History teacher Steve – incapable of not blabbing out personal experiences and home truths and is very captivating, his is the one true comedy character in the piece.
For a play that is classed as comedy, it is far from it; with much of the performance being quite intense. It hints at important, current topics which are so relevant in the current societal landscape such as mental health illness, pregnancy and even implies a suicidal moment but doesn’t meaningfully discuss any of the topics in any depth.
For me, the play left me feeling a little unsatisfied, but perhaps that was the point? There is very little clarity throughout the story-line, forcing you to draw your own conclusions; which to an extent I enjoyed, but there is no peak or final resolve by the end – which after watching for 140 minutes was frustrating. If you’re looking for a short easy watching play, a play that has a resolve or a play where some huge event unfolds then this is not the one for you, however the venue and the performances are worth the evening out.
How Love is Spelt is at The Southwark Playhouse until Saturday 28 September.