Sunday, 10 February 2019

Theatre review: Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist

I don’t harbour any particular illusions that my reviews make much difference to what anyone does or doesn’t go to see at the theatre, but there’s certain shows where what I, or anyone else for that matter, thinks is going to have even less influence on people’s decisions than usual: A play in which Tom Lenk from Buffy the Vampire Slayer plays Tilda Swinton is something you either want to see or you don’t. For me it’s an automatic yes, and I’m glad it is because Byron Lane’s Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist might be the funniest, silliest comedy I’ve seen since Bears in Space. In Tom DeTrinis’ production, writer Lane also plays Walt, who’s reacting badly to a breakup, and when his hamburger is delivered with pickles he didn’t ask for it’s the final straw that leads him to attempt suicide. It’s only the fact that he’s tried to overdose on hair-restoration pills that means he fails, and is alive to discover that when his ex-boyfriend moved out, he advertised the spare room on Craigslist.

The only applicant is eccentric actress Tilda Swinton, who won’t take no for an answer as it’s not the room she’s really interested in: Every role she’s ever played has been based on a detailed character study of a real person, and she’s earmarked Walt as her next muse.


His life’s depressing enough to win her a much-needed second Oscar (“I only have one Oscar! That’s the same as Mo’Nique!”) so she interrogates him on his life, possibly saving it along the way (although that’s obviously secondary.) Let’s face it, what plot there is doesn’t really matter, Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist is just an excuse to poke fun at actorly pretentiousness and wilful eccentricity. Lane’s script is bursting at the seams with good gags, most of them coming from Tilda herself as she regales us with her life’s journey “from a tall, awkward, pale woman in Scotland, to a small, powerful Asian man in Doctor Strange” – not the only dig at dodgy Hollywood practices.


The star of The Matrix Trilogy (she played Keanu Reeves under deep cover) is the perfect role for Lenk, who swans onto the stage in a bubblewrap coat, an outfit whose layers are a gift that keeps on giving. Lenk gets to demand all the attention as his Tilda is a deranged Mary Poppins who doesn’t seem to mind when Siri never responds to her – after all, neither does her Nespresso machine and she happily chats away with that. Lane is the perfect nonplussed foil, as are Jayne Entwistle and Mark Jude Sullivan in all the supporting roles. There’s not much more I can write about the show as it’s essentially a stream of jokes I’d just be spoiling; this is absolutely inspired daftness with a great hit rate of jokes (the Die Hard gag’s the best one though.)

Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist by Byron Lane is booking until the 17th of February at the Vault Festival’s Crescent; then continuing on tour to New York.

Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes straight through.

Photo credit: Tristram Kenton.

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