Adapted to the stage from Turkish author and composer Zülfü Livaneli's bestseller novel under the same title, "Leyla's House" has played to a full house for the last five years. Featuring the generational conflict between two women, the play produced by Tiyatro Kare, will soon take stage for the 500th time.
Awards poured in the hands of leading actresses Celile Toyon and Ayça Varlıer for their outstanding performances. We discussed what happens backstage with two master theater performers.
Daily Sabah: "Leyla's House," which celebrated its 500th performance, has played to a sold-out audience for the last five years. What is the secret behind this success?
Celile Toyon: I believe audiences find something close to themselves in our play. We are telling a life story interwoven with comedy, drama, music and dance. It has a clear-cut beginning and end. Our audience, living in a country whose people do not read or listen much, can easily comprehend the story. Nowadays, a new theater trend has been adopted in which the closure is left hanging in the air. Audiences do not understand what happens at the end. Everything is clear in our play, though.
Ayça Varlıer: As the play was adapted to the stage from Zülfü Livaneli's bestseller novel, "Leyla's House," with 67 editions, it already had an audience since the very beginning. Curious readers came to see the book-to-stage adaptation at theaters. Our play depicts how two women from different generations get to know each other with music. The women have a close friendship, just like a mother-daughter relationship. "Leyla's House" is both a drama and tragicomedy, revealing diverse theatrical perspective. Director Nedim Saban, also the owner of Tiyatro Kare, has devoted his life to theater. We are also addicted to theater and working hard to reach a wider audience. They are who makes us feel motivated.
DS: Who suggested Saban to adapt "Leyla's House" to stage?
CT: Director and artist Hülya Karakaş at City Theaters introduced me to Saban. I suggested a few books and plays to him, one of which was "Leyla's House." When he decided to adapt the book to stage, he immediately went to Bodrum to talk with Livaneli. The preparations started soon, yet rehearsals took too much time. Most of the performers were acting in TV series, and we had to wait for them. To make it clear, it was somewhat difficult to gather the cast.
DS: Ms. Toyon, can you tell us more about the character Leyla?
CT: From the very beginning, I compare Leyla to an old mansion. Livaneli indeed tells the story of a social class, sinking into oblivion. Leyla is an old lady from an Ottoman family who spends most of her time with her plants, books and music in an old Istanbul mansion. She is a well-equipped women educated at home in her youth. When she is forced to leave her house, she feels alienated and lonely outside. Later, she adopts herself to the life of the younger generations and helps them. Of course, young people support her to discover new sides of the world.
Leyla gets on well with youngsters as she is able to create a mother-child relationship. New families are formed thanks to her contributions. In other words, Leyla is not only a character, but also the representative of a social class.
DS: Let's return to Ms. Varlıer. Can you describe the character Roxy?
AV: Roxy is a third generation immigrant, who grew up in Germany. She suffered from serious physiological trauma during her youth. She was raised by a German step-mother and was sexually-abused by her family. She is a young woman who worked as a stripper to earn a living and later escaped to Turkey. Roxy is full of hatred and willing to express her anger through music. She lives in a small flat with her lover Yusuf in Istanbul's Cihangir neighborhood. On the other side, Yusuf is a young idealist working hard to become a journalist. When they meet with Leyla, the couple could not bear her. Leyla reminds them to have a family. Although Roxy and Leyla conflict with each other, the woman's life is entirely changed with music. Roxy adopts a friendly manner in time and makes peace with her darker side.
DS: Do you think Leyla is a hopeful woman?
CT: Despite her introverted nature, Leyla received Western-style education. This is because she is tolerant enough toward young people even though they continuously criticize her. In a broader sense, such plays and music are performed in our country even though some criticize and say "but." Our films are even awarded in Europe. On behalf of many other women like Leyla, I would say the art performed against all criticism creates hope in me.
DS: Ms. Varlıer, I know music is what you share with Livaneli. Have you ever listened to his albums or read his books?
AV: Of course, I have read some of his books, and bought his albums. Without a shadow of a doubt, everyone knows his five or six widelypopular songs. When I was an adolescent, I was mainly interested in musicals and jazz. I could now follow Turkish music since I grew up abroad for 10 years. I mostly know him from his books.
When they offered me the role to play Roxy, I crushed with the role and her character. Leyla's House is one of those unique projects, which you may not have a chance to perform on stage.
DS: That will be my next question to Ms. Toyon. How did you feel when you were offered the role? You have already retired from the City Theaters.
CT: I had not thought to play Leyla when I suggested the book to Saban. However, he persistently asked me to play the role and I said yes. I feel myself lucky, though. I rejected his offer at first, but later realized a life without theater means nothing for me. I will continue to take to the stage as much as possible. I am happy to play this role, yet I do not want to act another "lady" character in the future. It is not my cup of tea to perform the same role. The cast has become a big family during rehearsals, which is an underlying factor in our success. I believe we are a lucky team.
DS: What happened in the last five years of "Leyla's House?"
AV: We encountered many things in the last five years. One of our cast members, Onur Bayraktar, died in a traffic accident. Every time we go onstage, we commemorate him to revive his memory. We also learned many other things from the audience over the years. Audiences differ from each other across regions. To illustrate, there is a significant difference between tours in the Black Sea and Aegean regions. Our people show different characters with worth-mentioning differences in feedback. Celile Toyon is a master artist, but I am proud myself to stage the play for 500 times as a young artist.
DS: Did Livaneli watch the play? What was his feedback?
AV: The gala of our play took place in İzmit. Livaneli came and watched the play there. We made a revision after his recommendations.
The play was rather long, but Saban shortened it upon Livaneli's request. He later saw the revised play on our German tour and enjoyed it.
CT: Livaneli always encouraged and motivated us and never caused any trouble.
DS: How did the German audience find your play?
CT: Livaneli joined our performance in Hamburg. When he entered the theater, everyone started to applaud. His songs were playing and the audience was ready to cheer. It was one of our best performances. The cast was all excited.
AV: We only went on a tour to Hamburg due to time limitations. Most of our team was acting in TV series. The tour was initially scheduled for a week, but then reduced to three days and later one day. However, the one-day performance passed like a long tour. There were 1,200 people and the play was sold-out. The audience was amazing, as Toyon said, it was one of our best performances. You have no choice but to get excited in front of a large audience.