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How Love Is Spelt review at Southwark Playhouse, London – ‘an assured revival’

Larner Wallace-Taylor in How Love Is Spelt at Southwark Playhouse. Photo: Ali Wright

Examining loneliness, love, and co-dependence, Chloe Moss’ How Love Is Spelt is an intricate and intriguing character study. Delicate, dreamlike, yet keenly observed, the subdued, intentionally slow-moving script has lost none of its potency since its 2004 premiere.

The story centres on 20-year-old runaway Peta, and charts the awkward conversations she shares with the strangers she invites back to her bedsit during a brief escape from her toxic relationship with a much-older man.

Larner Wallace-Taylor plays the central role with real nuance; she’s hesitant and vulnerable, but always tense and watchful, too, absorbing details – postures, turns of phrase – from the characters she encounters, working them into her own, constantly shifting identity.

From a solid supporting cast, Michelle Collins stands out with a heartfelt performance as well-meaning neighbour Marion, projecting her concern for her own troubled daughter through the medium of over-attentive fussing. Nigel Boyle exudes menace as Peta’s manipulative boyfriend Colin, his every utterance equal parts threat and cajolement.

Right up until the last scene, director Charlotte Peters dwells on the play’s painfully recognisable humour and warmly captured details, making for a show that is deeply funny without detracting from a gradually accumulating sense of melancholy.

Georgia de Grey’s finely realised set is built around a messy, fold-out sofa bed, as cluttered with personal effects as a Tracey Emin installation. At one point, the rear wall falls away to reveal a shifting, sub-aquatic space in Peta’s memories. It’s both alien and peaceful; beautiful, and terribly lonely.

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Assured revival of Chloe Moss’ moving story of compassion and missed connections