HOME Theatre, Manchester; Wednesday 23rd October, 2019
Two years ago, writer, director and performer Javaad Alipoor dived deep undercover into the darkest corners of the internet in a bold quest to understand what was driving the online radicalisation of young men.
Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran is the second part of what will eventually become a theatrical trilogy – one which seeks to assess the impact of humanity’s head-first tumble into the digital age.
Just as his first show encouraged the audience to use their mobile phones – in that case a live WhatsApp group which kept receiving mysterious, menacing messages from a jihadi recruiter – Rich Kids also operates as an interactive spectacle, this time making use of Instagram.
With more than a billion active users and a software architecture heavily biased towards the sharing of photos and videos, Instagram is undoubtedly the place where young people go to show off.
Some, it seems, are able to show off a lot more than others. Javaad reveals how the hashtag #RichKidsOfTehran brings up a small but very conspicuous cohort of Tehran tearaways who evidently seem to spend all of their days drinking champagne at pool parties and driving Porsches between shopping malls.
The underlying political landscape in which these young people of the plush northern suburbs of Tehran are operating is fascinating, and is easily the hardest-hitting part of this show.
Both Javaad and his co-presenter Peyvand Sadeghian repeatedly allude to just how extraordinarily distasteful and corrupt the situation is. Not only are these rich kids flaunting it while the nation buckles under the weight of sanctions and economic isolation, they are literally the children of the very individuals who rose to power on an anti-corruption agenda back in the day. Iran’s prophets of righteousness seem to have spawned children who are now brazenly indulging in the very same sins that the parents insisted required a full revolution in order to defeat.
As a show, Rich Kids is a mixture of documentary-style story-telling – with specific focus on one Instagram account that made headline news all over the world – interspersed with far more philosophical reasonings that ask all the right questions. Are we shocked because they’re Iranian? Is it ok for other rich kids to enjoy their wealth? Isn’t it true that we all want that lifestyle, but that none of us are willing to accept the spectacle of seeing others living it?
Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran is ultimately a show about digital culture and consumerism. The interactive use of Instagram during the performance felt significantly detrimental, not enough theatricality was being added – if anything, it made it worse as the growing tension of the story kept getting interrupted for brief glances at content on a mobile phone which was actually fully available / repeated on stage anyway.
Despite this there is something very clever about the way in which Rich Kids stirs up a deep sense of emotional anger. The show is primarily a deeply profound attempt to interpret what are clearly extravagantly decadent levels of corruption, but most of social media (and Instagram particularly) is just people showing off anyway, it’s something that we all do, the digital age has surely just accelerated that arms race and we’re all now just trying to find our place in the pecking order?
The very vast majority of us are nowhere near the top and never, ever will be. That seems to be the most shocking and unpalatable scandal of all.
Photography: Peter Dibdin
|Visual pleasure||Eighteen separate screens up on stage formed the set and made for an excellent presentation wall, didn’t seem to get used enough though, especially when the action kept getting repeatedly deferred onto the small screen.||3|
|Auditory pleasure||Some excellent compositions used throughout the show but unfortunately it all fell apart during the live Instagram feeds: from the audience perspective dozens of individual mobile phones began broadcasting a horrible, echoey feed, all of them out of sync – it became impossible to hear what was being said on stage. Definitely would’ve have been better without the live feed at all.||0|
|Architecture & Theme||The underlying subject matter is fascinating and the attempt to paint it onto a much wider canvas of history and science is impressive. But the incorporation of Instagram interactivity seemed to be added on rather than an intrinsically innovative feature of performance delivery.||3|
|Artistic delivery||Excellent delivery from both performers, working individually and together. Both conjured up the right mood in terms of anger, shock, contemplation, etc.||4|
|Overall impact||A fascinating show that generates strong emotions yet still asks many powerful questions that are uncomfortable to have to consider. Ultimately it feels like it could be a top-quality piece of theatre without any of the live Instagram interactivity, the material is already incredibly interesting, it just doesn’t need the insertion of live broadcasts and requests to look at photos on a phone which are being displayed on stage anyway.||3|
|0||Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse|
|1||Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor|
|2||Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special|
|3||Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way|
|4||Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive|
|5||Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.|