Thu, 19 Nov 2020
Rich Kids: The History of Shopping Malls in Tehran, in front rooms everywhere
Review by Jon Lewis
When an age of austerity is replaced by a global economic slump, observing a privileged class of young people showering their parents’ money like confetti on high-end items, seems especially obscene in an Iran suffering from international sanctions. This phenomenon is the subject of Javaad Alipoor’s second play in an intended trilogy about the internet, Rich Kids: The History of Shopping Malls in Tehran, following on from The Believers are but Brothers, both plays Fringe First winners at Edinburgh, and promoted by the Oxford Playhouse. Broadcast live on YouTube, with audiences invited to sign up to a bespoke Instagram account, the online photographs and films become the ‘set’ for the production.
Alipoor and Peyvand Sadeghian, actors with Iranian heritage, and both performing from their respective homes, narrate the true story of Iranian lovers, Hossein and Parivash who die when their Porsche, a blatant example of their conspicuous consumption, crashes in Tehran. Images from their Instagram account are shown in reverse order, backwards in time to the beginning of the couple’s relationship, giving the play an archaeological conceptual framework that allows Alipoor, his co-creator, director Kirsty Housley, and dramaturg Chris Thorpe, to contextualise their behaviour more broadly. Alipoor and Sadeghian discourse on the history of time, the lifespan of manmade materials, the development of civilisations, the politics of Iran, and the development of shopping malls, especially in Tehran. It’s a complex mix of research and observation, delivered entertainingly.
Performing over the internet works to the play’s advantage because the point of view of the audience can shift from computer screen to phone, from dazzling computer graphics of maps of Tehran to surreal artwork. The irony in the lovers’ story is that they live superficially, spending fortunes on shopping trips abroad, all captured in their colourful glamour on their Instagram account. They are children of the Iranian elite, the ruling class that enforces strict levels of behaviour and decorum on the masses, hypocritical children whose lives mimic the gilded youth in western countries their parents teach the country to despise. It’s a fascinating production from one of the country’s leading young talents.