Interview: Sadettin Kirmiziyuz is a dedicated combination of playful representations and sombre discourse.
Troubleman - One day my prince will.come - Brakke Grond, a play written and directed by Casper Vandeputte and co-written by Sadettin Kirmiziyüz, was one of the international performances staged at Tampere Theatre Festival 2014. A dedicated combination of playful representations and sombre discourse, the play begins with a wedding where a young woman’s – Sare’s – multi-faceted story begins to surface. Sadettin Kirmiziyüz, the lead actor, and the Sadists, the supporting actors providing the musical accompaniment, welcome the audience as they walk into an on-stage representation of a late night at a Turkish wedding: shouts, mock-fights with a toy lightsaber, loosened ties and untucked shirts, upbeat music and equally energetic dances – fueled by alcohol. The instant change of tone in the scene is achieved by a melancholic song performed by the Sadists about a brother’s frustration with his sister’s literal and figurative departure: “Little sister, please don’t go.”

The play recounts a young woman’s existential quest, through her brother’s eyes, to find her identity and true love in a culture and society other than her own in the face of socio-cultural, religious and political challenges. Brought up by Turkish parents in the Netherlands, Sare falls in love with a Turkish man, moves to Turkey and changes her entire life to the instant dismay of her family. Filled with music, dance, humour, bright colors, politics and cultural clashes, is a bizarre, ragtag collection of comedy, music and sociopolitical musings that ultimately reaches the audience through passionate delivery.  is highly autobiographical and is based on Kirmiziyüz’s sister’s own experience. Kirmiziyüz and Vandeputte travelled to Istanbul to capture at length the story of Kirmiziyüz’s sister after her wedding in Turkey. In the span of 5 days, the duo, as stated by Kirmiziyüz, “had a pile of material and just dove into it.” Kirmiziyüz depicts different personalities on stage, first as the brother of Sare – in other words as himself, and ultimately as Sare. The decision of presenting the story through the point of view of a woman was, according to Kirmiziyüz, only logical. “We have four men on stage, and in the beginning we only hear them talking about the sister, Sare. It was a dynamic process in which the origin of the narration moved little by little from the brother towards the sister, until in the final scene she appears as herself. We found it necessary to have her present in the play as herself.’’

Filled with music, dance, humour, bright colors, politics and cultural clashes, is a bizarre, ragtag collection of comedy, music and sociopolitical musings that ultimately reaches the audience through passionate delivery.

The play’s themes are manifold; does not fail to touch upon  certain grave and topical themes. A universal theme in arts – search for identity – is elaborated in Sare’s attempts to find her true calling against all odds: She is torn between Christianity and Islam, the East and the West, her lover and her family. Based on her dilemmas, Kirmiziyüz and Vandeputte bring the subject to women’s rights. Sare is criticised and pressured by her brothers for her decision to wear a headscarf and move to Turkey. Headscarf and its socio-cultural, and political connotations have been in the center of much heated debate in Turkey, among other societies, for decades now. In the play, headscarf is presented as a conflict on personal and political levels; a young woman’s bold decision to find her inner self, to move to and integrate into another country – all is heightened by her decision to wear the headscarf. The play highlights the fine line between two viewpoints in regard to the so-called headscarf stigma: Does the headscarf defy the Western freedom or is it a depiction of freedom for a woman to choose to veil herself? Having no personal rejection to the headscarf, Kirmiziyüz admits the shock caused by his own sister’s decision and how “strange [it was] when my sister chose to wear one.” This sentiment is deeply reflected in the performance. Furthermore, the fact that Sare makes her decision to move to Turkey despite the heavy struggles her family have gone through to flourish their children’s lives in the Netherlands, as strongly emphasized by the brother in the play, pinpoints the challenges of integration into countries with perceivably different traditions.

As the play unfolds, Kirmiziyüz enters the stage in a white wedding gown with a red ribbon around his waist, a traditional symbol of chastity, to recount Sare’s wedding night. Kirmiziyüz’s cross-dressing unveils an important take on gender roles. Kirmiziyüz admits the unequal treatment, heavily embedded in the close-minded collective conscious, that he and his sister have received: “If I had been my sister, I would not be here. My family are migrants from Trabzon [Northern Turkey] and it’s a conservative family. When I said I wanted to be an actor and go to the Theatre Academy, they were OK, but I know that if I had been my sister it would have been out of the question.” Referring to the fact that his sister was not given the same opportunities as he was, be it to study acting or travel to Amsterdam all by oneself, Kirmiziyüz accepts the ever-present gender discrimination in today’s societies: “Yes we are very lucky that we are men and still there is big inequality between men and women even in the Western world. In the Netherlands, it’s becoming less and less . . . [still] it makes a big difference if you’re a boy or a girl.” Here is where the challenge of portraying his sister’s story from his own male viewpoint on stage surfaces, according to Kirmiziyüz: “We need to be honest . . . to ourselves” in representing the inequality that men and women experience around the world., therefore, becomes a manifestation of a fair and sentimental representation of a woman’s real life story. is without a doubt the most sincerely postmodern play presented at this year’s Tampere Theatre Festival. The play makes constant allusions to films, series, music, the internet and basically with all the cultural phenomenons with which the makers grew up. “The play definitely establishes a strong connection to the cultural phenomenons of the past. I share with my sister the same cultural background and the same pop-culture references. Growing up we watched the same films and listened to the same music. We tried to incorporate this world into the play to make it more relatable to people of my age or even younger. In addition, there are references to The Odyssey by Homer, mixing the modern pop-material with the canon of occidental literature. It serves as a means to showing people how they are connected in more ways than they realize,’’ explains Kirmiziyüz.

The problem with the postmodern aesthetics of is that it breaks the intensity of the main storyline. As with so many other plays that saturate their narration with a bombardment of pop culture references, one can not help but feel that the play is disguising its meager substance with visual gimmicks and humour. What’s worse, it distances the audience from the main character, Sare. Her personality is torn between hearsays, Ninja Turtles and pop songs. Her presence on stage is often fragmented, unfocused, translucent. She is not the main character as much as the phenomenon that she represents.

The group itself doesn’t lack passion. The actors (namely Sadettin and the Sadists) do their best with the given script. It’s the story that seems too thin to support a play of one hour and thirty minutes. Although highly entertaining, the play at times seems to run out of things to say about its main characters and themes. This constant void is filled by Turkish stereotypes, easy jokes and excessive amounts of music. The play puts too much weight on entertaining and establishing a connection with the younger audience to really animate the characters. This is why it sometimes feels empty and superficial.

Although highly entertaining, the play at times seems to run out of things to say about its main characters and themes.

What saves from bland mediocrity can be summed up with a name: Sadettin Kirmiziyüz. His skillfully choreographed narration and humour bring Sare’s voyage close to the audience’s heart. Although lacking profound depths, the story eventually gets under your skin thanks to Kirmiziyüz’s sincere delivery. His well choreographed narration sparkles with deeply personal tones experienced by the actor himself. His honesty and emotional openness makes the play relatable and touching. Next to him performing, the stylistic adventures and music video -pace seem shallow and pointless. It is a stand-up gig with a bleeding heart.

The music deserves a special note. Kirmiziyüz is surrounded by a group of incredibly talented musicians that elevate the story through pop songs, ballads and oriental music, using instruments varying from simple guitars to baglama, a traditional Turkish musical instrument. is a treat for the ears, although at times the amount of music reaches sheer pointlessness. When asked what he wants to accomplish with a play of this sort, Sadettin Kirmiziyüz pauses for a second, trying to conjure words to defend a play so deeply personal.  “Whenever I can, I try to find the person behind a simple headline in a newspaper. I’m interested in the real-life experience behind the story. In the Netherlands, we have lots of girls going through this same story. Having witnessed a member of my family go through with it, I felt the need to portray it on stage and make it more visible to a larger audience.’’ It will be interesting to see what Kirmiziyüz and The Sadists will do next. With more maturity and substance they could do much more than dazzle and entertain, which they do with unparalleled skill.