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Javaad Alipoor‘s Instagram-tastic odyssey through the lives of the Iranian elite and also time itself is ambitious, thrilling and frustrating
'Rich Kids' comes to Battersea Arts Centre in April 2020; this review is from the 2019 Edinburgh fringe
Javaad Alipoor scored a walloping Fringe smash in 2017 with ‘The Believers Are But Brothers’, a swaggering, provocative, teched-up exploration of online radicalization that made thrilling use of the audience’s WhatApp accounts.
Follow-up ‘Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran’ has all the ingredients to be just as powerful a piece of theatre… but at the moment, it’s not. The show, which Alipoor co-created with Kirsty Housely and co-performs with Peyvand Sadeghian, is really in need of some serious dramaturgical and technological TLC. But it does still have something.
Certainly you can’t fault its ambition. Alipoor again makes heavy use of an app, this time Instagram, to visually supplement a reverse chronology journey through the lives of Hossein Rabbani-Shirazi and Parivash Akbarzadeh. They – Rabbani-Shirazi in particular – were a pair of the titular ‘rich kids’ of Tehran: children of the Islamic Revolution’s now wealthy elite who lack the good sense to keep their wealth to themselves. The show begins with their death in a coke-fueled Porsche crash on the street of Tehran four years ago, and feeds back through their lives and the hardine Islamic revolution that (ironically) enabled them – and yes, it also talks about the various malls in the Iranian capital, and what they signify about various stages of capitalism in the country.
In addition, the show is also a blackly comic meditation on the nature of time, as Alipoor and Sadeghian discuss how its apparent linearity is a human construct, how the physical history of the world has been weirdly scarred by man’s interventions, and how our junk – phones, polystyrene, chicken bones – will exist for millions more years, dwarfing our current span on the planet.
Sometimes it almost coheres; but mostly it ends up feeling like two good ideas for two shows, neither of which is finished. Some of the ideas and lines in it are painfully perceptive, shamingly brilliant, dizzyingly smart; but as a whole it feels blurry and blunt. In this it isn’t much aided by the Travere’s WiFi, which delayed the start while it had to be rebooted and simply didn’t have the ooomph to keep the live video bits of the show going without heavy glitching that rendered Sadeghian’s words largely indecipherable. It doesn’t by any means ruin it, but it would be silly not to assume ‘Rich Kids’ would be more effective if the tech elements performed better.
Alipoor is a serious talent and this is probably one of the more interesting shows at the Fringe this year. You should totally see it. But my humdrum perception of time leaves me hoping we’ll see a better version of this show in the future.