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  • Kate Gaul

Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World & Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran

Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World and Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran

Javaad Alipoor Company (UK) and Riverside’s National Theatre of Parramatta (NTP), playing as part of the Sydney Festival, 2022.

Written By Javaad Alipoor

Co-created By Javaad Alipoor and Kirsty Housley

Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World - a co-production between the Javaad Alipoor Company and NTP is a work-in-progress showing of this work in a digital and live setting. In 1992 Iranian popstar and refugee Fereydoun Farrekhzad was found brutally murdered – stabbed more than 70 times, his tongue was cut out, and his genitals cut off. The case was never solved. Things Hidden is an investigation into this iconic murder and an investigation into the nature of investigation. It’s a world of murder mystery podcasts that presents everything in the world as knowable.

Working alongside Australian artists and technicians as well as those from the UK, Alipoor’s Things Hidden is a dazzling drop down the rabbit-hole of Wikipedia and the Internet into worlds that never collide. The work-in-progress event is performed, script in hand, by Javaad Alipoor and Australian Shirong Wu to dazzling effect.

This is the third part of a trilogy which includes The Believers Are But Brothers (seen at Riverside, 2019) and second part Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran, all exploring how digital technology, and fracturing identities are changing the world. Rich Kids was originally performed live and in-person for audiences when it premiered in the UK in 2019, the show was converted into a digital experience in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran loosely follows the fantastically rich Iranian Mohammad Hossein Rabbani-Shirazi (son of an revolutionary elite) and middle-class Parivash Akbarzadeh: twenty-somethings whose demise was reported in the New York Times. The plot moves backwards from the couple’s death in 2015, high on cocaine and alcohol in a yellow Porsche, eventually passing through a generation to witness the seeds of a movement that charts Hossein’s father as a leading light in the Revolutionary Guard and then an influential businessman.

Javaad Alipoor and fellow performer Peyvand Sadeghian, both British-Iranian theatre artists are speaking to us via YouTube from their separate rooms to those at home or, on the big screen - if you are at the live-digital event - at Riversides’s Lennox Theatre. Both are extremely charismatic performers. We’ve had access to more digitally mediated theatre in the past two years than ever before. I’ve seen productions that expanded my ideas of what kind of art could be made in these liminal spaces – but none that made me think so intensely about what it means to mediate and narrate our lives through these technologies as Rich Kids.

We are instructed to join an Instagram account for the duration of the show and with our phone open as well as looking at the screen (either at home alone or in the theatre with an audience) we are exposed to a rapid scrolling media collage, hashtags, Live Feeds, archival imagery and a, frankly, dazzling text of prodigious detail. Instagam becomes a metaphor for history.

After seeing the smashed Porsche, we watch as Chatunga Mugabe, son of Robert, pours champagne over a priceless watch. The tales of excess are used as a pivot for an investigation into digital culture, postmodern consumer capitalism, global geopolitics, the nature of historical time, and Iran. Iran: as a post-revolutionary Islamic regime under sanctions from the West and a playboy’s paradise for a class of rich kids who bask in their parents’ influence without ever feeling their fervour. It is on Instagram that these rich kids flaunt their wealth in a way they can never do in “real” life. We are asked to consider the impact that conspicuous consumption is having on the planet, which is being altered for millennia to come.

The intoxicating, fascinating and frightening facts to be taken from this show include everything from knowledge that the first iPhone came out closer to the fall of the Berlin Wall than to today; the history-subverting discovery of Gobleki Tepe; that most of us have slightly radioactive teeth; and the archaeological artefacts that will be left by our own time: a solid layer of chicken bones and the shells of shopping malls.

In the theatre, the Live Feeds hit people’s phone at different times – this is markedly different to watching alone at home. Live, spoken text and sound cascade through the space adding a cacophony – unique to the collective experience that is theatre. Whatever text is spoken is also sub titled on the larger screen in case you miss it. Totally discombobulating as adrenaline rises. Undeniably good!

But perhaps the most chilling revelation of Rich Kids lies in the notion of Anthropocene - the name for our current, human-impacted geological era. There is a belief by geologists that the Anthropocene is marked by an atmospheric drop in carbon dioxide in the early 1600s, known as the Orbis Spike. The cause of this decrease? The millions of slain peoples of the Americas. The imagistic text haunts long after the production ends -

“There are two people, a woman on the beach waiting for the end to arrive and a white man staring back at her about to bring it.”

The Orbis Spike (“an image of history we cannot delete”) implies that colonialism, global trade and coal brought about the Anthropocene. It goes to the heart of social concerns, particularly the unequal power relationships between groups of people, economic growth, the impacts of globalized trade, and our current reliance on fossil fuels. And so, we circle back to Hossein and Parivash …

The story of Hossein and Parivash the show tells us, is why it is so important we know how we came to be, so we can see where we may well be going--and fix it before it’s too late.

These are rich works that play with form. Ultimately, leaving audiences with more questions than answers, interrogating our concepts of time, history, the march of human progress, and what we leave behind. If you like your theatre political, poetic with words and ideas whirling, sparking and stretching your brain – with full permission to be looking at your phone at the same time - then these offerings are unmissable!

Kate Gaul


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