This is not Mssrs. Tiffany and Cumming’s first time at the gender-bending rodeo. Three years ago to the day of the Macbeth opening here, their National Theatre of Scotland version of The Bacchae bowed at the Rose and was a pretty rippin’ go at Euripides.
As Dionysus, that overheated hedonist and God of Good Times, Mr. Cumming made a rock-star entrance—handcuffed, dangling upside down by his ankles from the flies at the top of the theatre, wearing a kilt (and you know the old rumor about kilts).
Mr. Tiffany also tossed him the perfect one-liner when Dionysus overreacts and incinerates a whole set in a pique: “Too much?” he asks as an afterthought. (Fire marshals monitored the scene carefully, and a flash of heat warmed audience faces.)
Startling the audience is a specialty with Mr. Tiffany. In Black Watch, his stunner about a Scottish Army regiment in Iraq, soldiers make their entrance by ripping their way through a pub pool table. It won 22 awards, including an Olivier for his direction.
One of the people Mr. Tiffany specifically thanked in his Tony acceptance speech was Steven Hoggett, who, billed as “Associate Director,” kept the Black Watch cast in a sweaty state of perpetual motion with marches and military drills. Once gives him credit for “Movement,” and Peter and the Starcatcher calls him “Choreographer.”
“I’ve known Steven for 25 years,” said Mr. Tiffany. “Our kind of collaboration in life and work has been sustaining in so many inspirational and amazing ways. He’s incredible. His form of choreography and movement is, I think, truly innovative.
“Theater is so much more than just walking into an auditorium and sitting down and letting the curtain go up. It can be anything and anywhere, and I think we, as theater-makers, should start celebrating the ‘liveness’ of our form. Theater starts from the moment someone has the idea to go see a performance. Then, it’s about where to buy the ticket. It’s about how much that ticket is. It’s about what the marketing is, what the publicity is. It’s about where the nearest bar is to get a drink afterwards. Theater is a social experience from the first moment you hear about the possibility of going, and we need to celebrate every single element of that social experience. If that involves letting an audience go on stage during a big music session and have a drink from the set bar—and if that makes them more alert to the possibility of what that story might be or what theater can be—that excites me.”
The unifying theme of Mr. Tiffany’s shows is that they don’t unify at all. “They’re incredibly disparate,” he pointed out with some justified pride. “Theatre is a medium that can’t be digitalized. You actually have to buy a ticket and come into a space to see what we do. We really have to explore and exploit that sense of live experience.”
Seating was on the sidelines for Black Watch, bracing audiences for some theater different from what they’re used to. With Once, they go on stage and knock back a few. Macbeth has a comparable thing going. “I really like playing with audiences’ expectations, with their experience of what the event is,” Mr. Tiffany admitted. “Theater-makers should create work that is unique, that can only exist for an audience. Always, always, always think about your audience. The only thing you’re doing it for is an audience. Develop a generosity of storytelling and a desire to connect.”