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Javaad Alipoor – award-winning playwright credited with bringing younger and more diverse audiences and technology into theatre, talks politics, elites, young people…

Javaad Alipoor – award-winning playwright credited with bringing younger and more diverse audiences and technology into theatre, talks politics, elites, young people…

ACV caught up with Bradford-born talent who some feel is re-thinking theatre for a digital generation – and just as there is a chance to see two award-winning pieces he has adapted for online viewing now…

By Suman Bhuchar

HIGHLY original ‘Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran’ is playing as part of Electric Dreams, an online arts festival (July 24- August 16) this week.

The show, which is on this evening (8pm BST) and Friday (August 15), won a Fringe First Award at Edinburgh last year and was going to open at the Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) in April, but was curtailed due to the pandemic.

So, a digital online version was created as a way of allowing audiences to experience the show. There is a fee (£8) to watch.

Javaad Alipoor

Co-created with Kirsty Housley (an associate of Complicité, a theatre company that specialises in extreme movement work) – to experience this 60-minute digital play, you should follow the @shoppingmallsintehran Instagram account as the story unfolds and you watch IGTV clips on it.

The story is based on an actual incident that happened in 2015 when Iranian rich kid, Hossein Rabbani Shirazi, who came from a family of revolutionaries and his girlfriend, Parivash Akbarzadeh died in a car crash in a speeding Porsche.

This incident exposed the economic inequalities in the country and illustrated the way poorer people saw the children of the revolutionary elite – as above the rules everyone else has to follow.

Rich Kids’ explores conspicuous consumption as the children of the people who led the Iranian revolution have grown up wealthy, uncaring and without direction – much like other elites elsewhere.

Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran

Two performers (Javaad Alipoor and Peyvand Sadeghian), narrate the story of the out of control lovers.

The futility is palpable. There are some emotionally involving scenes where the position of women in Iranian society is highlighted and it also encompasses geo-politics, climate change and even notions of time.

Alipoor told “I think what the work is about is the feeling of being out of control in terms of your relationship to history, you know the idea that we are feeling numb after Covid-19.

“Take the idea of climate change, we feel like we’re on this rollercoaster going faster, and faster and faster, and for me, effectively one of the things the piece does is build a lot of different metaphors for that feeling.”

He is known in the theatre world for using technology in his work and his earlier show, ‘The Believers are But Brothers’, which played at Edinburgh in 2017, and, also won a Fringe First and is also part of Electric Dreams, tells the story of young men who are radicalised by social media.

It encourages audiences to be on What’ s App (a mobile communications app) as a way of augmenting the enjoyment of the piece.

Contrary to what you might think, Alipoor uses technology as a ‘form’ of the political theatre he is interested in making, and not just for the sake of it.

“The kind of work I am interested in is where there is a relationship between content and form.

‘The Believers are But Brothers’

“So, the way we use technology is really much more theatrical, than it is technical in that tradition of playing around with form and what’s recorded and what isn’t, what’s in the room and what’s not.

“It’s about making a world of theatre playful and pervasive, a world that feels a little participatory for the audience, which I think in terms of making political art nowadays is really important. Because this gets us to the audience question.”

He says playwrights do think about audiences when they write – and asserted that anyone who says otherwise is not being honest.

Alipoor has noticed that traditional theatre audiences are getting older, but there is an educated, younger more multicultural community that is intelligent and confident and is not being properly addressed in creative work on stage or much encouraged to visit the theatre.

“There is a layer of very confident, very culturally plugged in, very politically aware Black and Asian young people around this country – disproportionally in the big cities who are in a very hybrid and confident way, redefining what it means to be Asian, or Muslim, or Indian or Pakistani or Jamaican right, now”.

He said there is varied content across platforms that has made this awareness and knowledge possible – but most theatres venues are still too narrow in their preoccupations and don’t produce work which respects this audience, he felt. That audience simply doesn’t see what is going on in theatres mostly as relevant to them, he argued.

“This audience is engaged with big TV shows and can quote large sections of ‘The Wire’, or ‘Chernobyl’ or ‘ I May Destroy You’ and they care about what’s happening in Palestine, in China but they don’t come to our theatres, because no one in our theatres can be bothered to make work which speaks to them. And I think that’s a shame,” he asserted.

Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran

The thoughtful and engaging 35-year-old said he isn’t interested in explaining everything that many under 40 instinctively know.

“I have never wanted to explain ethnic minority issues to white people.”

Alipoor comes from a dual heritage background. His mum is English working class and his dad fled the Shah regime (1941-1979) in Iran.

They met in the UK and he was brought up in Bradford on a council estate.

A graduate of Maths and Philosophy from Leeds University, he worked for a while with Royal & Derngate Theatre in Northampton as a community projects producer, but then set up his own company and moved back to Bradford.

As a writer, director and activist, he has had a varied theatre career and he was Resident Associate Director of the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield (2017-2019) where he directed ‘One Flew over The Cuckoo’s Nest’.

He is also a member of The Pervasive Media Studio, Bristol, a community exploring the intersection between creative technology and design.

He was brought into theatre by his mother who encouraged him to respond to an ad in the local paper about a young people’s diverse theatre group. At the time he was a local youth worker.

Called Red Ladder and based in Leeds, it was set up by Kully Thiarai (now creative director for Leeds 2023) and it was where he met Madani Younis, who was briefly the first non-white director of the Southbank Centre in London, but left in 2019 and was prior to that artistic director of the iconic Bush Theatre in west London.

“I basically did theatre school with Madani in the evenings outside of being a youth worker.

“I remember meeting Madani in his office in Bradford and he was this working class Asian lad with a Watford accent who was obviously making a living from having stuff to say.

“I thought this is pretty cool and assisted him on a couple of projects. Later, I was made redundant as a youth worker and somehow naively I thought I would fall back on theatre as a career.”

‘Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran’
TODAY (Monday August 10) and Friday, August 15, both 8pm-9pm
‘The Believers are but Brothers’
Wednesday, August 12 – 8pm-9pm (BST)

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture