Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran
Javaad Alipoor, co-created by Javaad Alipoor and Kirsty Housley
Javaad Alipoor and HOME in association with Traverse Theatre Company
There are so many elements and ideas in Javaad Alipoor's sequel to his The Believers Are But Brothers, both in terms of performance techniques and the messages it tries to convey, that it could take a lengthy essay rather than a review to properly unpick it all—perhaps too much to cram into an hour-long performance.
The starting point—and one of the important elements of the performance—is Instagram and how it is used by some young people to ostentatiously flaunt their extreme wealth and hedonistic, consumerist, deliberately wasteful lifestyles (see #richkidsofinstagram for some examples, between the 'get rich quick' scam posts). This is pretty sickening to look at for many of us, but when those rich kids are the children of the rulers of countries that preach austerity and a rejection of Western capitalist values and where a large proportion of the population struggles to earn enough to feed their families properly (see #richkidsoftehran for example), it seems particularly hypocritical.
We are told in the show and the press release of a perfect example of this: "in 2015 Robert Mugabe’s son, Chatunga, filmed himself pouring a £200 bottle of champagne over the £45,000 watch his father bought him, tagging it on Instagram as #daddyrunsthewholecountry." These are people whose sense of entitlement has persuaded them that the suffering of others is irrelevant to them and they deserve what they have.
The framework of this show follows Mohammad Hossien Rabbani-Shirazi, the son of an Ayatollah in Iran, from the moment he crashed his Porsche, killing himself and his girlfriend, backwards in time as though scrolling back through his Instagram feed (using genuine posts of theirs, since removed by the regime) to their partying, drug-taking, shopping and flashing of wealth and privilege, behaviour of the kind that the country's leaders publicly condemn but which their own children are not only indulging in but are broadcasting to the world over social media. The audience is asked to follow along by joining an Instagram account for the show and scrolling to specific images and videos when told, and sometimes to switch to a live video feed.
While this is the story element, it seems that Alipoor actually wants to deliver a lecture about the profound changes on the earth of the geological period some scientists have dubbed the 'Anthropocene', or what The Lord of the Rings called 'The Age of Man', and to put into context the effects that seemingly small elements of our current lifestyles will have on our planet for the next few centuries or even millennia. He finds some good ways to illustrate these concepts, but the content doesn't go much further than what we have already been bombarded with about 'the environment' consistently over quite a few years now.
Another element of the show is a history of the political situation in Iran, which Alipoor traces back over hundreds of years; he seems to be tying the events together convincingly, but whips through it so quickly it is hard to follow the details.
The idea of utilising Instagram as part of the show is perfect in concept; in practice, it is more problematic. I must say, the front of house team at Home were brilliant at helping audience members to set up Instagram correctly on their devices, especially those who were brought up using phones with dials rather than buttons (as was I). However, all of the images appear on the screens at the back of the stage so you wouldn't miss any if you didn't join in with that part.
The live broadcast sections didn't work as well, as the live sound, spoken by Peyvand Sadeghian, was sometimes too swamped in effects to be intelligible and the broadcast sound was coming from everyone's devices all around at different volumes and at different times. There was text from Alipoor on our little screens, but I didn't get my glasses on quickly enough to work out whether this was echoing the spoken text or adding to it, and it scrolled off too quickly from audience members adding their emoji to the feed. There were too many things to concentrate on at the same time for me.
The show was co-created by Kirsty Housley, who was co-director with Phelim McDermott of Tao of Glass at this year's MIF and with Simon McBurney for Complicite's The Encounter, and it does show some similarities in style with those shows and indeed with those other practitioners' work.
The show is packed full of interesting ideas and ways of looking at the subjects covered, but if I was marking this as an essay I would be saying that the material and the research is strong but it all needs pulling together into a coherent argument. The result is a patchwork of ideas that aren't given the space to be explored fully, but it's still an interesting journey and a brave use of new technologies and audience interaction that fits the subject matter and contributes to an unusual theatrical encounter that's worth experiencing.
Reviewer: David Chadderton