HOW LOVE IS SPELT plays at the Southwark Playhouse until 28 September. Information and tickets here

IN BRIEF Haunting, bleak impressions of a young woman’s attempt at finding herself amidst the loneliness of London.

“You can be who you like”, says young Peta about London, to where she has run away, from her life elsewhere, in search of…? But Peta doesn’t know who or what she wants to be and looks for the answer in other people: however, all those she meets are also searching for something which seems to elude them. Chloë Moss’s 2004 play comprises a series of extended dialogues where we find out a lot about those lonely people she brings home, but little about Peta herself. We have to work hard to examine the small hints and clues that Moss allows us to see

Peta is still coming to terms with being an adult, a casualty of a shattered family, still child-like in many ways and longing for the lost family securities and comforts. The people she meets talk a lot, in a series of (sometimes loosely-calibrated) outpourings; and all the while, Peta listens and absorbs, as she attempts to create a story for herself from scraps of others, which change all the time, trying things out, adding and discarding, rather like trying clothes on in a store.

The people she encounters are all crushingly lonely like her, and the meetings remain transitory encounters. “It’s difficult meeting people…and being honest”, as one of her encounters says. Only the fussing and care given by an older neighbour- becoming for a moment a substitute mother -brings Peta a measure of unfamiliar comfort, allowing her the security to express herself in a few rare moments of openness which are sweet and touching, allowing a window into a life which has been denied to her. Only at the end of the play, with her boyfriend, do we see Peta in a relationship in her “real” life. An unequal, pressured, (perhaps even more uneasy?) type of relationship, which provides little relief but feels more like surrender.

This is my first experience of the play and I was struck by the natural rhythms of the dialogue, the fractured sentences, the slips, trips and misfires that all lend these discussions authenticity. It certainly makes for compelling viewing. The well-chosen cast do a first-rate job, supported by Charlotte Peters’ compassionate direction.

Larner Wallace-Taylor plays vulnerable, milk-drinking Peta with such intensity that it makes one feel concerned and protective. Her limited eye-contact, variable reactions and skilled use of Moss’s carefully-written, sometime juvenile expressions and vocabulary subtly demonstrate that Peta is attempting to play the role of an adult. It is an outstanding performance.

At the end, one feels drained, but also grateful for such a thoughtful revival. Moss’s play is a touching and bleak reminder of the universal human need for communication.

HOW LOVE IS SPELT plays at the Southwark Playhouse until 28 September. Information and tickets here

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