Alp Haydar is the dark horse of the new cabaret scene. In the 12 months since he quit full time work and threw himself into creating new shows he has received a London Cabaret Award nomination and a Time Out Audience Award.
The video projections that form the backbone of his show reveal an ongoing saga featuring many characters, all of whom Alp plays himself. They interact via the magic of the green screen. Drawing on conflicts between his upbringing in Turkish Cyprus and his irrepressible sexuality, Alp creates dialogues and situations revolving around two key characters: Sharia Law (a version of his mother) and Mohammed (his on-off Muslim beau). These are situations that he knows he would never be able to enter into in real life, and the frothing comedy can at points barely conceal the pain and the unresolved issues being purged in front of the audience.
Adding another layer to the multimedia experience, Alp, compering his way through his own one-man variety show, talks back to the screen. The inventiveness and shamelessness of the film projections know no bounds. Audiences have seen him undergo transgender surgery, engage in bestiality with at least 8 different species, and, perhaps the pièce de resistance, fist himself on-screen. Those yet to see him, and who suspect his act might be a series of pretentious performance art pranks, read on. The cartoon world Alp creates is, in its own way, highly accessible and always fun: a meeting of film-noir campery with the kind of joyful video trickery that Kenny Everett fans will remember fondly.
Raising the stakes of ‘did he just do that?’ Little Britain grotesquery, Alp can always be relied on to go just a little bit too far. Whether out of eagerness to please, or insecurity that no-one will come back, he is very concerned to give the full value-for-money experience, attaching phallic pyrotechnics to his ‘suicide belt’ as he breathlessly hoofs through another high-octane sing-a-long. He will also mingle with the crowd pre-, mid- and post-show, greeting old friends and charming new ones into submission.
And if all of this doesn’t hook you into becoming an instant fan, his gleeful flesh-flashing will most likely accomplish the feat instead. “The way I look at it, they paid £7 for this, they need something back. I want them to be happy! We’ve got the video, the songs and the costumes. I’ll flash a bit of arse too. Why not? Perhaps some of the audience will leave happier because they saw a great arse. I’ll give them everything I have. I’d feed them too if I could. I often think about this when I’m passing the Turkish grocers down Green Lanes.”
Discussion of his influences reveals predictable gay-friendly camp classics such as Whatever Happened To Baby Jane and Mommie Dearest, which are partly geared towards ensuring his audience have familiar reference points. Also, he tellingly reveals great enthusiasm for the stop-motion pioneer Ray Harryhausen, creator of the original Clash of the Titans. We agree that there is something creepily effective about early stop-motion that speaks directly to the physical play with materials that forms part of childhood learning. “It looked like something that was familiar … that tactile quality that we’ve lost with CGI.”
The work of Czech animator Karel Zeman, a pioneer of meshing live action with animation, exerted an even more direct influence. Alp remembers very clearly the effect of seeing the 1961 version of the Baron Munchausen tales. “I was amazed by this one scene: We enter the court of the Sultan. All he’s done is enlarge one image over another, but it feels like you’re entering a room. There’s this little dancer in the foreground belly-dancing. Suddenly we’re transported back to a 17th Century Ottoman court. All this using composite imagery. I thought, he’s done all this with 3 composites … will my software at home do that with 4?”
Incredibly, all of Alp’s films are created on a cheap PC laptop. I feel a headache coming on as I imagine the tedious nights he spends sitting up waiting for his images to finish rendering at super-slow speeds, but what he squeezes out of his technical limitations is astounding. Although the brilliant visual inventiveness of the projections is achieved using software, there is a hand-made aesthetic running through all of his work that shines through the digital trickery. Each show takes 2-3 months of hard work to create, and when Alp is ready to present new material he usually performs a recap of previous shows so the uninitiated get a chance to catch up with the latest dramatic developments in Alp-World.
Having apparently committed suicide in his last show, some people seem to be under the impression that the saga of maternal abuse and romantic rejection that has played out over his last few shows has come to an end. I find it odd that this kind of logic is being applied to Alp’s fantasy cartoon world in a post-Simpsons and South Park world. Rest assured though, the show will go on at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in July as Alp Haydar’s Sharia Law, a reboot/spin-off focussing on his mother’s early life, which he describes as ‘Iron Lady meets The Music Man’.
“I want to explain how Sharia Law got her perspective on having a child who’s gay. When she comes out and does her number ‘My Son Is Gay’ we need to understand the pain behind it. I need to deconstruct for the audience why she has become so hateful and where that comes from. What made her become so conservative growing up as a child in Cyprus? Because she didn’t start that way in the Garden of Eden.”
The new show will soften the character of Sharia and audiences can look forward to her very own episode of ‘What Not To Wear’. My guess is that, like me, the white middle-class people that still make up the bulk of Alp’s audience see the things Sharia says and does on stage, like most comedy, as an exaggeration of real life events, but Alp insists that these assumptions are misplaced.
“The truth? They’re toned down. Completely. I watched Mommie Dearest with a bunch of mates and afterwards everyone got very serious about how awful it was that Joan Crawford might really have beaten the shit out of Christina with a wire hanger. I remember feeling bored with the conversation. I got hangers every day as a child. Second-generation immigrant kids on the whole don’t find that shocking. For me hangers were an everyday thing. Slippers was a good day. All water off a duck’s back. I’m not playing the fiddle though, I love my life. I feel lucky that people pay £7 and we can laugh about this together.”
Moving onto the subject of Alp’s body, I put it to him that, although his followers undeniably find him very sexy, his nudity on-stage and in his videos doesn’t have the same daringly provocative impact as, for example, fellow RVT regular Ursula Martinez’ infamous Hanky Panky act. I see his physical presence as somehow more… cherubic.
He looks a little piqued about this dampening of his virility until I rationalise the effect as being like a Trojan horse, one which can smuggle subversive ideas and some quite shocking images across the battle lines towards the mainstream, that performed with the body of another person would be far more disturbing. He warms to my theme.
“I try and be sexy but I think it’s fair to say I don’t really know how. Of course I wanna kill it and blow you away with my suicide belt number… but I can’t. Essentially, Alp’s a goofball. Even a number that a tramp on the street could make sexy and sell to you, I can’t. I might have the body of a demigod, but I’m always going to be … Les Dawson. No-one’s going to find that attractive.”
Whether out of modesty or disingenuity, I think he is seriously underestimating the goofball’s erotic appeal. But let there be no confusion about one thing: Alp Haydar is single, and he’s not happy about it. Recklessly eroding the boundaries between his on and off stage personas, he has launched an online (and on-stage) campaign to try and rectify the situation, with, to date, a stunning lack of success. Alp is clearly a HUGE (and therefore failed) romantic whose dreams of sharing hummus and pitta watching old movies in bed sit uncomfortably with the world of joyless Grindr dates he feels are fast becoming the world we are all forced to inhabit.
However, potential suitors, before you throw up your hands shouting “ME! ME! I FEEL EXACTLY THE SAME!”, do read on. “That video was really sticking two fingers up at life, at this stupid game we’re all playing. My shows are the only thing that really give me pleasure. Who needs a relationship anyway? After you’ve been to Atlantis and been on all these magical adventures with Mohammed, who says everything you want him to say… who gives a shit about the real-life happy ending? I’ll give up on finding mine and just film it instead.
Watch the video interview with Alp here.