by Chloe Moss


Directed by Charlotte Peters


Southwark Playhouse

4 - 28 September 2019

Review by Geoff Billingsley


These are exciting times at Southwark Playhouse - they're within touching distance of raising the funds required for a new theatre, although this artistic venue in Newington Causeway won't be discarded immediately. It'll still be utilised as an arts venue while the switch goes ahead and rightly so. It's a quirky little place and the theatre area itself reminds me of the smaller theatre at Trafalgar Studios in Whitehall. 


Director Charlotte Peters is Associate Director on the UK (& international) tours of "War Horse" and "An Inspector Calls" - I'll be seeing the latter at Bromley later this week. "How Love Is Spelt" first appeared at the Bush Theatre in London 15 years ago, now enjoying this revival by Brickdust and Project One until the end of the month. 


Peta (pronounced Peter) is in London and wants some fun. She appears to be living temporarily in London in quite an untidy little apartment, making friends as best she can. She brings men back occasionally and tries to have as "normal" an existence as possible but there is a b/w framed photograph on her bedside cabinet whom  she describes to her visitors as her father, but is it? Joe is the first of these visitors that we encounter - Joe is common, there's no other way to say it. He has a good heart but is out for a good time and last night he bumped into our Peta. He gets her name wrong of course, calling her Petra until he's corrected in the cold and sober light of day. 


Benjamin O'Mahoney plays Joe and is totally convincing. He's appeared in TV's "Ripper Street" and has bags of theatre - particularly Shakespeare - experience. He's one of those actors you know you will see again, the versatility clear to see. Next Steven visits after a boozy night out - he's a teacher and nothing like Joe. A gentleman who thinks Hampton Court is the centre of all civilisation! He took a previous girlfriend there and she was less than impressed. Steven is a nice enough fella but sneaks out when he thinks Peta has dropped off...but she hadn't. Duncan Moore plays Steven and plays him very well, someone who loses his bottle slightly when it comes to decisive moments or situations. 


Another overnight visitor is Chantelle. Peta met her in the club where Chantelle got involved in a bit of argy-bargy. She ended up taking her home for her own safety. Yana Penrose plays Chantelle, a brassy character who tells it like it is. A good confident performance from the ALRA trained Miss Penrose.  


It seems that whatever hang up's Peta has she seems to seek out those with perhaps more problems than her own. After all, Joe just couldn't stop talking, Steven was a bit of a nervous insecure wreck and Chantelle was certainly a loose cannon. But it's the Peta character that holds all this together, even when nosey neighbour Marion pops up from downstairs. Peta had had a fall the night before - another boozy night out. Marion just wanted to check she was ok - then proceeds to stay for the rest of the day when it's perhaps her who craves company. There is real affection between the two characters though - Marion seems to be mothering Peta a bit. Marion is ably played by Michelle Collins. I'm sure Miss Collins won't mind my saying that she is the "senior" actor performing here and she's excellent as Marion - a concerned neighbour but with problems of her own it transpires, especially with her daughter who comes and goes, returning when she needs money or just somewhere to rest. A bit of a stroll in the park for Miss Collins I must say.  


Colin is the final visitor and ties up some loose ends but there's no obvious conclusion about Peta's problem - or indeed if she even has one. She seemed to be expecting the "Peaky Blinders" actor though, that's all I'll say. 


There is very little detail available about Larner Wallace-Taylor, other than she's ALRA trained and has been in Doctors and Blue Murder but there will be soon. Her performance here outshines all others and she deserves serious recognition for this portrayal. Compelling and intense she highlights the perils of living life on the edge - unsure of what she really wants but confident enough to take some chances. The individual performances here were all brilliant, even with the irritating mobile ringing and a glass being kicked and left to roll in such an intimate theatre space - but the show must go on, after all...and this one will, I'm sure. 

Southwark Playhouse
77-85 Newington Causeway
London, SE1 6BD
Box Office: 020 7407 0234
(Mon – Fri, 10am – 6pm)