Arguably the most frustrating thing about seeing your own work performed by other people is that no matter how talented the cast, they’re never exactly how you imagined the characters; especially when they’re based on real-life people. And although it might seem absolutely mental, there is a way around this – do it all yourself. Performing surreal, hilarious and sometimes downright terrifying characters simultaneously might not seem possible, but Alp Haydar somehow makes it work through use of a pre-recorded green screen. A schizophrenic pantomime, if you will. Seeing a man heckled on stage by a fearsome, fundamentalist caricature of his own mother – played by himself – is something everyone should experience once. With a brand new show (Alp Haydar’s Erotic Adventures in Atlantis) about to descend on the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, So So Gay decided to find out more about the man behind the many roles and why he’s the most exciting, unpredictable act in cabaret today.
SSG: How did you first end up performing?
Alp Haydar: I’m of Turkish origin. My parents are Turkish Cypriots, which is a strange identity in itself because it’s not really recognised. You have a hard time saying ‘I’m a Turkish Cypriot’ because Turks as a whole don’t really get where Cyprus is and Greek Cypriots obviously don’t want to share that title with you. I guess I identify with being British; my parents were born in Cyprus when it was still a British colony so I got a British passport. My dad at least is very Anglicised. I’m not English, but I feel more at home here than in Cyprus where I spent a great deal of my youth.
I went back there six years ago and came out to my mother. She went completely crazy. That upset me and disconnected me from her and from Cyprus. I’d just broken up with someone too, and was drinking quite a lot.
There’s this bar called Cellar Door that I went to a bit. I met a guy there who was a pianist and we started off doing some shows together there, Battersea Barge and eventually at the RVT. After a bit I was left without a pianist and the idea came to start using backing tracks and a video screen for this big gig I had coming up. A few people scoffed at the idea but as I used to edit wedding videos, all those glittery, shimmery, tacky backgrounds I’d done were finally going to be useful!
And from that came the idea of using characters, such as the figure of my Mother appearing while I performed, calling me a fudgepacker and telling me I was talentless. Especially as that’s what I thought the audience would think…
Who else in cabaret are you a fan of?
Dickie Beau is fantastic. He unashamedly sings to backing tracks, which gave me the confidence to do it myself. I don’t see why there can’t be a technical aspect to cabaret like there is in other types of performance.
Where do you get your ideas?
My dad and my mum! My mum is obviously the terrifying, larger-than-life character ‘Sharia Law’. Both my parents know I do performances that involve costume, but how much else they know, I don’t really know. My mum recently came back to London and saw the ‘Sharia Law’ mask I perform in by accident. She even picked it up, but she didn’t put it on. That probably would’ve killed me.
How much technical preparation does a show need on average?
I do a new show every two months, and try and squeeze the life out of it. I’d like to do a new show every three months, which would be a healthier amount of time. At the moment you’ve got to create the music, film it, edit it, make all the original artwork – and then there are costumes. All of this is done on my own.
When you’re not tinkering with green screens and performing, what else do you do for work?
I temp. It’s horrible!
Without giving too much away about the ending of this new show, have you any ideas on what the next one will be like?
I’ve got a run in the New Year which will finish the trilogy of the current shows. Being able to articulate my own ideas, have arguments I can’t have in real life with my Mother – they’re not plot devices or plans, they’re just what’s in me. So technically, this stuff’s already been written.
You’re used to performing to smaller, fringe venues like the RVT. Would you like to bring your material to a vast, Sally Morgan stadium audience?
All I’d ultimately love to do is to bring my shows to the Soho Theatre one day, as I love the place. Ninety-nine-and-a-half per cent of what I do is just to make people laugh. There might be thought-provoking things in there but there’s no cerebral, embarrassing, eating-my-own-excrement style stuff. I just want to pat all the straight men on the back, pat the straight women on the arse and fondle and grope and sleep with all the gay men!
Disclaimer: this video contains some nudity.