This engrossing and intellectually stimulating story delves into family histories and takes you on an emotional journey…
By Suman Bhuchar
THIS new play by American writer, Jonathan Spector begins with a clever opening by Psychology Professor Lukesh (Esh Alladi) telling the audience to switch our phones off.
At first it appears to be a preamble to the play but, it segueways beautifully into an introduction into his specialist subject – cognitive psychology which he is teaching at an American University in the Fall (or autumn) of 2015. (The thinking is inspired by work of Dr. Daniel Kahneman, a Princeton University psychologist).
The set itself is a very prosaic university seminar room complete with presentation technology, projectors, and is designed by Blythe Brett with lighting by Bethany Gupwell.
Director Chelsea Walker is able to use the space in a very imaginative and beautiful way to convey the over 55 scenes that come and go and hold our attention.
The basic premise is how humans make decisions, or how we rationalise them and what comes before, is it reason or action? Are we conditioned or was it out of choice. All this is very deep and I am still trying to work it out.
However, Spector gives us three disparate stories – they appear to be independent, but then somehow end up connecting and we are left trying to puzzle out how it all happened.
The stories deal with– Lukesh’s wife, Natalya (Natalie Klamar) has left him “possibly forever” according to her ominous text. She is looking for her Russian Great Grandmother and through that prism we discover the true story of Svetlana Stalina (daughter of the dictator Josef Stalin – who took on her mother’s surname, Alliluyeva), who once fell in love with an Indian communist called Kunwar Brajesh Singh.
In this quest, Natalya travels all over Russia looking for answers.
The other story features a young student, Harold (Oscar Adams) who has been influenced by his father’s white supremacist racist ideology but has renounced his beliefs (Spector said it was inspired by the true story of Derek Black).
So through the play, Spector examines the impact Left and Right wing political ideologies have on the children of these famous fathers.
There are fine performances by the three actors who are constantly on stage, juggling many parts – and a huge shout out to – Adams who plays most of the ‘other’ characters in this absorbing, entertaining and engaging show.
ACV rating: ***** (Five out of five)
Main picture: Lukesh (Esh Alladi) in ‘This Much I know’ – All pictures/Hampstead ©TheOtherRichard
‘This Much I Know’ by Jonathan Spector, (December 13) to January 27 2024
Hampstead Theatre,Eton Avenue, Swiss Cottage, London NW3 3EU