Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, January 19
An audience address becomes a play without you noticing. But then Javaad Alipoor’s work questions the nature of a play, just as it questions the internet’s deception that everything can be known; questions how a refugee pop star becomes a murder victim; questions what it means to be Iranian, but unable to live in Iran.
Alipoor, a Briton of Iranian descent, co-wrote the show with Chris Thorpe, directed it and stars in it, playing himself. As a performer, he has such fizzing presence that if he told you Trump was the messiah, you’d briefly consider the proposition. Instead he toys with ideas, preconceptions and your capacity to question your own powers of interrogation.
He tells of Fereydoun Farrokhzad, Iran’s shah of pop and TV – “the brightest star, albeit in a smaller sky” – before 1979’s Islamic Revolution, whereupon he fled to Germany, and died a violent death in 1992. He likens Farrokhzad’s mass appeal to that of Tom Jones in his heyday, while later emphasising the futility of defining anyone as being like another.
Enter Asha Reid, who plays a podcaster with a show called Death in the Gaps, purporting to investigate mysterious unsolved murders. She presents the known facts about Farrokhzad’s death, and hypotheses about how and why he was killed. We also meet Raam Emami (playing himself), better known in Iran as King Raam, a musician and songwriter whose father was killed by the regime, and who lives in Canada, where he has been told he’s on an Iranian death list.
Across 90 minutes the show pulls focus between these three “characters”, as we’re drawn deeper into Farrokhzad’s case, while also learning to question what we’re being told. It uses projections ever more elaborately, with live music by Emami and multi-instrumentalist Me-Lee Hay.
On one level it’s a staged documentary that disguises its own shrewdly dramatic structure, culminating in Alipoor and Reid recreating a credible version of Farrokhzad’s death. If Reid’s contributions were initially the weakest link, by this point she’s joined Alipoor in transfixing you. Yet it’s all just a hypothesis – in a play begging you not trust hypotheses, similes, Wikipedia or even itself. It contains profundities and inanities masquerading as profundities, yet you forgive the latter and absorb and relish the former, because the show crashes through its own rules and obliterates anyone else’s.