Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World review – a theatrical revelation | Theatre

You may not have heard of Fereydoun Farrokhzad, the figure at the centre of Javaad Alipoor’s new production. Before I read about the show, neither had I. As I write this review, perhaps I do some research. Maybe I Google Farrokhzad’s name, read his Wikipedia page. Maybe I feel, having done this, as though I know something about him. But, as Alipoor brilliantly demonstrates, knowledge is not the same as understanding.

Javaad Alipoor in Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World.
Javaad Alipoor in Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World. Photograph: Chris Payne

Farrokhzad, Alipoor tells us, was like the Iranian Tom Jones: a 1970s pop star and cultural icon. Except he wasn’t really like Tom Jones at all and the fact that Alipoor needs to make this comparison tells us something about who is rendered visible and who exists in the gaps. Alipoor’s show is, on one level, about the unsolved murder of Farrokhzad, who was found brutally killed in his flat in 1992 while living as a refugee in Germany. But it’s also about the impossibility of translation, the reproduction of colonial structures, and the way the internet shapes our sense of knowing.

This is the final part of Alipoor’s trilogy exploring the interactions between technology and society, after The Believers Are But Brothers and Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran. Like those shows – which were partly told through WhatsApp and Instagram respectively – Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World fractures audience attention, using an overload of facts, music, narration and projected images to evoke the distracted experience of being online. And it goes a step further, exposing how the seemingly neutral structure of the internet itself and its illusion of instant knowledge perpetuate colonial power dynamics.

If any of that sounds dry, the experience of watching it is anything but. Alipoor and his collaborators have the skill of turning mind-stretching ideas into theatrically thrilling performance. The show gleefully mashes up genres, smashing together the quiet authority of the murder mystery podcast, the intimacy of autobiographical storytelling, and the visual spectacle of multimedia performance – while simultaneously deconstructing each of these forms. In a culture that so often seeks to simplify, this is a dazzling argument for complexity.