If global crises like climate change or COVID-19 make anything clear, it’s that the wealthy and the poor are living in completely different version of reality. Some can have whatever they want whenever they want it while others are literally struggling to keep their heads above water. This second instalment of a trilogy in Javaad Alipoor’s “state of the world” theatre-making takes on wealth, power, and Instagram.
Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran straddled two mediums: either the in-person stage or the digital performance space and Instagram, integrating the social media feed and live function into the production. In this way the production told the story as it actually happened with a foot in reality and another in the highly curated idea of reality presented online. The central focus was Hossein, the son of a wealthy Iranian official and heir to a shopping mall empire, and his girlfriend Parivash who both died suddenly when they crashed Hossein’s yellow Porsche on the streets of Tehran after a night of partying in 2015. Their deaths went viral online as a symbol of the consequences of greed and inequality. In Rich Kids, co-creators Javaad Alipoor and Kirsty Housley retraced the events leading up to the crash from the early hours of the morning back to the revolutionary Iran of the 1970s. They asked whether this one event was indicative of a much larger social problem, a force that had been growing for decades.
Alipoor and co-performer Peyvand Sadeghian led the audience through the performance with dalliances to Instagram live and regular reference to the production’s Instagram feed which used images of the crashed Porsche, drinks and drugs, and the Dubai skyline to illustrate the part video essay, part tragic narrative. Other video elements designed by Thom Buttery and Tom Newell for Limbic Cinema included distortion of Alipoor and Sadeghian’s faces to add a hyper-digital quality to their recordings and surreal, swirling videos depicting a kind of post-apocalyptic Martian future of red rock and desert.
The sound design by Simon McCorry and lighting by Jess Bernberg were emotive, drawing on the sense of dread and inevitability in Alipoor’s script with big builds and warm, earthy colours which played against the more garish Instagram aesthetic. But the emotion of the script only took the production so far. By bringing together the history of Iran, Hossein and Parivash’s story, and some Instagram hashtags, Alipoor and Housley hoped to make larger statements about consumerism and digital culture but, other than references to the mallwave phenomenon, there was very little discussion of the impact of these forces on the general person. The focus of Rich Kids on Iran and the intention of global extrapolation was tenuous and insufficient to illustrate how social media has influenced consumption and the global positioning of wealth.
Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran ran at Riverside Theatres and online from January 22nd – 23rd
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