I had never heard of Fereydoun Farrokhzad before, the Iranian singer at the heart of Javaad Alipoor’s new show. Described to us as ‘the Iranian Tom Jones’, Farrokhzad was hugely famous in his native Iran but fled the country after the revolution in the 70s and became a vocal critic of the regime as a refugee in Germany. It was here, in a small apartment in Bonn, that he was brutally murdered; stabbed multiple times whilst preparing a meal. To this day, Farrokhzad’s murder goes unsolved.
Things Hidden is the third part of a trilogy, a trilogy that has led to Alipoor's glowing reputation for innovative integration of technology in his performance, carefully weaved together with pressing societal issues. He comes onto the stage and begins a monologue about Farrokhzad, about Alipoor’s heritage, about the kind of show he wants to make; he dryly performs a pastiche-y, over-earnest intro to the autobiographical version, where he bridges the gap between his (often, largely) white audience and a story that takes place in Iran, by tapping into his experiences growing up with a white mother, and Iranian refugee father.
What we are to get instead is the theatrical equivalent of a Wikipedia deep-dive, an investigation into investigations. Alipoor tells us that during lockdown he became an expert (insert heavy air-quotation marks) on Jainism by reading everything there was to read about it on Wikipedia, though he confesses he barely understood it by the end, he’d still chew your ear off about it at parties. This, not a murder-mystery, is really at the heart of the show. A show about the ways we acquire knowledge, the ways we translate stories to make them understandable, what is lost when we do, and how completely ungraspable any kind of objective reality really is.
The refrain ‘the more you know, the more you understand’ is repeated multiple times throughout the show, doused in irony-heavy treacle. It is the catchphrase of the true-crime podcast series that investigates Farrokhzad’s murder, performed by Asha Reid in a recording studio decked out at the top of the stage; she knowingly mimics the true-crime voice and draws us into multiple theories of who killed Farrokhzad and why. It is clever, and the accompanying projections are a stunning representation of our overwhelmingly digitised world, a world of information constantly accessible at our fingertips.
Alongside the investigation, the image of Raam Emami, an Iranian musician better known as King Rami, is projected onto the stage. He delivers a monologue of his story, which has clear parallels to Farrokhzad - an Iranian musician, a vocal critic of the Iranian regime, a wanted man. Emami’s story is fascinating and he is here in the room, playing guitar, singing, and stepping onto the stage to tell us about his father and the contemporary struggles in Iran.
The show is very meta, it is an investigative show about investigation, of course they don’t solve a high-profile murder case. But that’s the point, I think. No matter how many Wikipedia links we click, we can never access something in its entirety. No matter what approach we take, we will not come across the perfect method by which we can access something; in the act of choosing one access mode over another, we lose the insights that alternatives might offer us. In choosing the murder-mystery podcast, we lose the autobiographical take.
It is a riveting, thought-provoking performance about the nature of reality, of the stories we tell, who gets to tell them and who gets to listen. Though the search for objectivity is futile, and even if we won’t ever fully understand our world or what happens on it, it’s worth trying - and I could watch Alipoor try for hours.
The London premiere of Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World is at Battersea Arts Centre 9 - 26th November 2022. All tickets Pay What You Can via bac.org.uk
Photo by Chris Payne