Review: How Love is Spelt

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Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A courageous, vulnerable, and sometimes refreshingly awkward How Love is Spelt unwraps the world of a young girl in her exploration of relationships in the vast and intimidating capital. In Chloe Moss’s play, we accompany the naive Peta, expertly played by Juliette Willis, and in her various late-night interactions, we see the insecurity, fear, and the humanity of loneliness.

The play centres around Peta and her alcohol-soaked attempts to find an adventure after leaving her home in Liverpool. Through five crackling scenes, we meet various characters who, in the safety of Peta’s London flat and her unworldliness and coltish nature, expose their vulnerabilities with forthright charm. This was expertly explored by the co-direction of Alexander Bittar and Maddie Clark, who from the second the lights went up, navigated the painful discomfort of the morning after. Coupling a hummingbird-like Peta whose hapless darting around contrasted with her languid lover on a bed on the opposite side of the stage, made the disconnect agonisingly apparent. This adept direction carried throughout the play, every movement not only felt natural but added to the growing crescendo of bitter isolation to result in a powerful stasis that left the audience overwhelmed and analysing every small movement. This was only enhanced by the technical team (Grayson Burr and Jack Whinnon), lighting (Alex Hamilton), and sound (Orry Gooberman)– whether a pin-light on the ever-present photograph of the unknown man on the desk, the ingeniously saccharine 50s music chosen to cover scene changes, or the magnificently original backlit shower curtain where the audience could see the shadow of characters when they are using the bathroom – may be the most vulnerable any of us can be (!) – every choice was intelligently weighted and inspired.

A special mention to Tabby Thompson who inhabited the role with such nuance and delight I was enchanted

The originality of Moss’s understanding of the transient relationships formed in the early hours is seen in the frankness in these fleeting encounters; both characters understand how meaningless and fragile the connections are and in this they expose themselves and are truly, for the first time, vulnerable. A mammoth play, hinging solely on dialogues between Peta and her scene partner, it is no surprise that this cast was inspired. Stretching from a hapless cockney, Joe, (played superbly by Marcus Tapper) with a lude attitude and inability to remember Peta’s name. A nocturnal neighbour, Marion, (delightfully depicted by Jemima Abate) whose helpless mothering was heart-breaking. A crushing Colin (portrayed wonderfully by Noah Tucker) whose anger and authority is palpable. A painfully inept and bungling teacher, Steven, (charmingly played by Zach Ismail) whose propensity to rub his hands ended up giving me clammy hands out of inherited anxiety. And, a dejected Chantelle, who is left out by love – a special mention to Tabby Thompson who inhabited the role with such nuance and delight I was enchanted.

An incredible portrayal, Willis’ range was explored with the wide-eyed eagerness that made the highs Himalayan and the lows painfully severe

Ultimately, a play of self-interpretation we see at the core, Peta. A young girl who doesn’t even know herself. Who constantly reinvents, through haplessly lying and stealing lines from previous encounters. The audience is stunned by the raw ability to wholly empathise with a person who only wants people to stay over because she is afraid of the dark. It is an undeniable fact that one connects so well with her because of the genius playing of her by Juliette Willis. Willis played the role with unflinching tenderness and humanity – her jovial, hapless, and sometimes impetuous realisation of the role was wonderfully fresh and heartachingly beautiful. An incredible portrayal, Willis’ range was explored with the wide-eyed eagerness that made the highs Himalayan and lows painfully severe. One could not rip their eyes away from this character, whose luminosity shone out and helped warm the hearts of their companions and audience alike. Although, at points the dialogue seemed slightly longer than necessary with the exploration of motivations and conversation slightly over stewed, leading to a long-running time; this play’s confrontation with the human condition is deeply empathic leading me to recommend this play to anyone who would listen as we can all relate to the painfully stunted and awkward interactions that come with the being a young adult.

Image credit: Collingwood Woodplayers Theatre Company

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