How We Met: John Tiffany & Steven Hoggett
'We're like the two old men in "The Muppets", commenting on the camera angles, the hair...'
Sunday 12 September 2010
John Tiffany, 38, is associate director at the National Theatre of Scotland. He is best-known for his internationally acclaimed 2006 production of Iraq war drama 'Black Watch'. His other successes include updated versions of 'The Bacchae' and 'Peter Pan'. He lives in Glasgow.
Steven is my best and oldest friend and I thank my lucky stars that he is still in my life. I met him when I was 15 at the Huddersfield Choral Society Youth Choir and we became inseparable.
We wanted to be pop stars, still do, and we were obsessed with music, films and Sky magazine. My mum loved Steven, but thought we were as pretentious as hell – and we were. We'd go to Manchester and buy the most ridiculous clothes. Grolsch bottle tops on our shoes and all that.
We both got part-time jobs in Boots – I worked behind the pharmacy counter, he worked in audiovisual. We used to beg the supervisors to let us go on lunch together. We were very enterprising; we'd leave Boots and in the evening we'd work at a restaurant called Alaska. Very ahead of its time and therefore, in Huddersfield, a disaster – we were all still excited about deep-pan pizzas at that point. Then, after knocking off, we'd go out to clubs such as Videotech, which played videos on the walls.
We went to different universities, but kept in touch. Neither of us studied theatre, but that was when he got into physical theatre and I got into new writing. His first couple of shows, like mine, were ropey – they were trying things out. Then he did a show called Tiny Dynamite. It was like a modern-day Jules et Jim, and it was beautiful. That's when I started to be convinced of his specialness as a performer.
We didn't work together until 2003 – because our styles were so different we hadn't considered it – but we've had some amazing experiences because of it, like taking Black Watch to New York. It's brilliant to be able to share those highs with someone you've known for 20 years.
If I haven't seen him for a while, he's always excited to tell me about what he's seen and done. We tend to spend Christmas together, preferably not in Britain. Our families don't mind, although when we're in relationships sometimes our partners might. Steven introduced this New Year's Day ritual, which we did in a beachside café in Koh Samui this year, where we name our book, album, person and twat of the year. Often we share both person and twat.
Steven Hoggett, 38, is co-founder and artistic director of the physical-theatre company Frantic Assembly. In 2009 he won a Best Theatre Choreographer Olivier award for his work on 'Black Watch'. He has also provided choreography for TV ads and music videos by artists including Goldfrapp and Calvin Harris. He lives in south London
We met at a choir practice around 1987. We were both tenors. John seemed to have this fizz about him that he's never lost.
John lived two bus rides away, which is quite a distance in Huddersfield, and we'd go to each other's house and listen to the latest cassettes we'd bought. At that time John was a bit of a Five Star fan; not sure whether he'll admit that now.
I grew up a lot between the ages of 16 and 18. One of our friends had a huge family house and her parents would go away for weeks at a time, so we'd all decamp there and spend summer cooking for each other, playing tennis, spending all night talking, lying about in fields smoking and drinking. It was a formative time for me. We went through everything – the usual teen excesses, big emotional stuff, intimacies with each other as friends. We'd have serious conversations that would be excruciating now, but were vital at the time.
When we went to university – John to Glasgow, me to Swansea – our relationship became quite sporadic. Looking back, that was the longest period we've spent apart since we've known each other.
We'd hardly talked about theatre at all at that stage. We were both a bit tentative – coming from Huddersfield, nobody you knew had a job in theatre. We took our time to work together and didn't do anything until John needed me for a project – but we've been very fortunate.
When The New York Times review of Black Watch came out, we were sat in my hotel room there; we stood on the balcony in silence for a bit, trying to get our heads round it. It was even better because it was originally just supposed to play for three weeks, so we had made it in this very pure way not thinking about it being a big hit.
We've created standards for each other and berate the other if he falls short. It is difficult, because it means John tells me things I don't want to hear and vice versa. Inappropriate lovers, for example.
There's no high and low culture for us and we absorb as much of it as we can, so we are very happy sitting with a bowl of Revels and watching rubbish on TV. We're like the two old men in the theatre box on The Muppet Show, commenting on anything and everything – a camera angle, somebody's hair. And that's just the ads.
We are very similar – even the accent. If we start drinking together in a bar, the vowels start to flatten and we get more and more Yorkshire. By the end of the night we sound like two old farmers.
'Beautiful Burnout', presented by Frantic Assembly and National Theatre of Scotland, is at York Hall Leisure Centre, London E2, from Thursday to 2 October. 'Black Watch' is at the Barbican, London EC2 from 27 November to 22 January. For details on both, see www.barbican.org.uk
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