I will go and see any and every Javaad Alipoor production. I missed the original run of The Believers Are But Brothers but caught Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran and reviewed the revival of Believers – on November 3 2020. Why is that date important? Why, it was the US Presidential Election! After seeing Riverdance in March, this was the only other show I got to see throughout the rest of the year, thanks to that pesky pandemic.
Alipoor (who The Mancunion interviewed a few years ago) is back at HOME with Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World. I could not make the press night on November 1 but I was attending the press night for The Cherry Orchard yesterday evening so HOME kindly let me see the matinee performance of Things Hidden. Why is that important? Why, it was exactly two years since I saw Believers – poetic, right?!
Having seen Alipoor’s previous work, I know how difficult it is to review. Not only do you risk spoiling it for people who wish to see the show, but it is so hard to summarise. There’s nothing quite like it. It is inventive, immersive, and incredibly abstract. Alipoor has crafted his own brand of storytelling, and that’s the only way I can describe his work. Alipoor is, essentially, a genre. If you have seen one of his shows, and I describe another show as Alipoor-esque, you’ll know exactly what I mean; it is incredibly particular.
Things Hidden begins with Alipoor delivering a lengthy monologue, as himself, with a little audience (and mobile phone) interaction and participation – a convention of his shows. It felt more like a lecture or a talk than a piece of theatre – but it was, essentially, a prologue.
Alipoor stood in front of a black wall, with two black screens that came into use later on. He had an iPad (or something similar) on a podium, and when he wrote on it, his writing was projected on to the wall (proper lecture vibes).
The play (if you can even call it that) also stars King Raam, a hugely successful Iranian artist – one so controversial that Canadian officials told him that Iran wanted him dead. At first, Raam appears only in video footage, before we catch a glimpse of him behind a screen, and then he later steps out of the music box and addresses us directly. It is in this speech that he tells us about Iran wanting him dead, and he even jokes that if any of us in the audience are there to kill him, now would be a poetic time to do it!
The play (let’s just go with it) is stolen, however, by the captivating Asha Reid, who plays the host of a true crime/ murder mystery podcast. Video footage of her is projected on to the black wall. In her first appearance, the top screen pulls back to reveal her sat at a desk in a suite, talking into a mic. There is another screen in front of her, creating a sense of distance. (Later on, the screen at the lower level is pulled back, revealing Raam and another musician, Me-Lee Hay).
Reid’s delivery is sensual, seductive, and sardonic; she spectacularly satirises true crime podcasts.
Ostensibly, the play is about the murder of Iranian popstar-turned-refugee Fereydoun Farrokhzad. Farrokhzad was, essentially, the Iranian Tom Jones (though Alipoor brilliantly deconstructs the idea notion that for somebody’s notability and success to be comprehended, they first must be compared to another – usually a Westerner).
After fleeing Iran, Farrokhzad ended up living in a small apartment in Germany, a lowly but peaceful life, until he was brutally murdered – six months after he performed to sold-out audiences over two nights at London’s Royal Albert Hall (Alipoor acknowledges our Western shock that a Middle-Eastern singer we have never heard of sold out the Royal Albert Hall – twice).
Reid makes several appearances, each time updating us on findings and discoveries, taking us on a true crime journey. She informs us that Farrokhzad had cooked dinner for two – so we know that he was murdered by his guest, but, to this day, nobody knows who. As is convention in true crime, she goes over a number of theories, deconstructing all of them and poking holes in convincing theories, before arriving at a conclusion that most people can get behind.
At the end of the play, she breaks out of character. The comedy comes crashing down. That’s enough fun. Shit gets serious. Why? Because the play is so much more than a real-life true crime podcast, or even a parody of one. The podcast is a vehicle; it is used to guide the audience along. It is part of the play’s wider interrogation of contemporary society’s way of knowing (in his earlier monologue, Alipoor got the audience scrolling on Wikipedia).
The play isn’t even just about the murder of Farrokhzad; the murder is an artefact, like one might use The Handmaid’s Tale as an artefact in their dissertation about white feminism (yes, that’s really what I did).
The play is, essentially, an entertaining, academic exploration into violence, digital culture, and the post-colonial world.
I could say more. But then I’d spoil more. So that’s enough analysis and deconstruction. Just go watch it yourself.
But be warned, the play requires that audience members have the ability and openness to think critically about the world, to recognise and appreciate nuance, but even the most academic and intelligent amongst us will come away a little perplexed. But that’s okay. You don’t have to understand everything. In all honesty, given the play’s interrogation of “knowledge”, I think that’s kind of the point.
Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World is at HOME until November 5.