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This Much I Know | Hampstead Theatre | Review

The connection between heuristics and biases is profound and inextricable,” an article in the show’s programme says, a statement which I found to be indicative of this show, an ambitious play that presents a relatively straightforward proposition in unnecessarily complicated ways. What it suggests, from what I can gather, is that, according to cognitive psychology, it is human nature to tell stories. But these stories are not necessarily accurate down to the last detail, because of a variety of factors, of which finite powers of recall is but one. So, it is entirely possible that two people can witness the same incident but remember it markedly differently.

Natalie Klamar and Oscar Adams in This Much I Know. Credit The Other Richard.
Natalie Klamar and Oscar Adams in This Much I Know. Credit The Other Richard.

To begin with, Lukesh (Esh Alladi), who lectures in cognitive psychology at university level, draws the audience in, backing up his assertions with relatable examples. It is, frankly, a genuinely intriguing lecture, in which the audience assumes the parts of his students (which worked well on press night, with reviewers scribbling into notebooks). Meanwhile, his wife, Natalya (Natalie Klamar), hasn’t written so much a ‘Dear John’ letter as three text messages: “I’ll be gone for a while.” “Possibly forever.” “It’s nothing you did.

Trying to work out exactly what’s happening after this is not made easy by time-hopping between generations and continents, partly because Natalya, who is writing a novel, takes an impulse vacation to Russia (the show is set in 2015) in order to find out more about her ancestry. Those genealogy websites weren’t going to cut it for her, it appears. This leads to a subplot about Svetlana Alliluyeva (also Klamar), who wanted to go by her mother’s maiden name on account of her father being Joseph Stalin. Alliluyeva, who defected to the United States in 1967, was helped by Natalya’s grandmother, though as the grandmother’s personal archives turn out to be very sparse, she (Natalya) is encouraged to plug in the gaps in her novel by using creative license.

Then there’s Harold (Oscar Adams), one of Lukesh’s students, who has a white supremacist father, and has therefore become a white supremacist himself, having been indoctrinated as a child. There’s a Damascene conversion of sorts, though it’s not explained how or why he made such a sudden (and unlikely) turnaround. There’s a near-constant switching of narratives, and while the cast do well to emulate different characters’ accents, I found myself working harder than I would have liked to even attempt to keep up with it all.

A lot of ideas are thrown at the audience, and I suppose the point is proven that the limitations of one’s memory means I couldn’t possibly regurgitate them all even if I tried. Those who like to watch shows in peace will find some enjoyment in Lukesh labouring a point about mobile telephones that he requires to be turned off before his lecture begins. Bethany Gupwell’s lighting design makes some not-so-subtle switches between the fluorescent strip glare of the lecture theatre to the softer feel of a front room, and back again. A committed cast provide compelling performances. But sometimes less is more, and I can’t help feeling fewer ideas explored in more depth would have made for a more appealing experience.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

A tenured professor of psychology, Lukesh enjoys a life as organised and logical as his mind. But then his wife vanishes, sending only a text message by way of explanation and leaving him to re-evaluate their relationship. He discovers she has embarked on an epic odyssey, crossing and recrossing Russia and delving deep into Soviet history on a quest to unravel a family mystery of which he was unaware – one in which Josef Stalin himself may be involved.

13 DEC 2023 – 27 JAN 2024


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