Intelligent does not even begin to describe Jonathan Spector's play This Much I Know. Directed by Chelsea Walker, the show is carefully crafted to feature three narrative threads, each in varying locations and times, without ever confusing or overwhelming the audience. The stories slowly intersect and link, and stem from an underlying discussion about choices, luck and consequences.
The show starts quite abruptly with Lukesh (Esh Alladi) reminding audiences to switch off their phone, and then diving into the psychological elements of being in the audience. The slow spiralling descent into examining more layers of human actions and thought process is fascinating, and Alladi delivers this seminar with warmth and a likeable personality. The show soon evokes emotions as it pulls the curtain back on his life and we learn his wife Natalya (Natalie Klamar) has left him. Closely linked to this, and often overlapping, is the interactions between Professor Lukesh and student Harold (Oscar Adams), wherein they discuss Harold's family beliefs (he comes from a family of passionate white nationalists), and how Harold feels when the university turns on him.
These stories and characters deviate into less immediate, but still solidly interwoven stories that we follow. Natalya travels to Russia to research for her novel about the Soviet Union, which is a beautiful exploration in human connections, facades, and the past. Oscar Adams shines here, portraying a number of Russian men with ease. This also leads to closely following the story of Svetlana Alliluyeva, daughter of Joseph Stalin. Rivetingly told through a press conference wherein she is questioned by reporters (Alladi and Adams from within the audience), we learn about her history, and more importantly, which questions she tries to evade. The intensity of sound and the camera flashes makes this a rather tense segment, that is spread throughout the show, and leads to rather powerful use of the stage. Klamar excellently demonstrates both vulnerability and stoicism in her acting here, which counters Natalya's more emotional and gentle character.
Performed as a parallel storyline are the love stories between Professor Lukesh and Natalya, and between Svetlana and her Indian husband Brajesh. Portrayed by Klamar and Alladi, the two narratives happen almost simultaneously. Effortlessly slipping between Russian, Indian and British accents, and using lighting (and a quick hair bun for Klamar), the two of them bring a clear chemistry to both relationships and frankly is just mesmerising to watch. Although the three performers deliver unforgettable performances, it is Esh Alladi who is the stand out performer. Initially calm, engaging and scientific, his ability to emote catches us off guard. From his fiercely proud and teary smile when Harold renounces his family beliefs, to breaking down about Natalya leaving him, or the urgency and desperation to save his family absolutely moves the audience and we're able to experience it all along with him.
The staging was brilliantly designed by Blythe Brett, with three desks connected, to form a "Z"; each allocating their own story. Designed to resemble a classroom, the show begins with a PowerPoint about cognitive psychology, a clock, pin up boards, a projector and a number of books. The show also uses projections to emphasis how much of an impact a message has, or to show us the photos that the characters use. Also heavily featured is voice overs, particularly for phone calls, although this normally transitions into one or both characters continuing it on stage. The show is a masterclass at how seamlessly technology has a place in dialogue in theatre.
The lighting and sound design and the choreography are exquisite. Designed by Bethany Gupell, Holly Khan and Michela McLean respectively. Each story line has a distinctive lighting design - utilising warm yellow lamps, to clinical flooding harsh white lighting, to flashes and TV screens, the show constantly catches you by surprise. Additionally the emotional outbursts of the characters disrupt the lighting, causing it to flicker or increase for split seconds.
This Much I Know is an engrossing, enthralling and engaging show that will alter the reality that you currently dwell in and encourages you to examine who you are, and why. It is the most intelligent script that I've had the pleasure of watching, and truly is a stellar production on all fronts. It is currently playing at the Hampstead Theatre until 27th January 2024 - for more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.
AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by The Other Richard