Review: Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist

Billie Manning

What’s that descending upon us from the heavens? Is it a bird, is it a plane? No, no, it’s much better than that. It’s Tilda Swinton.

Yes, indeed, she (played by Tom Lenk of Buffy fame) has appeared, Mary Poppins-style, ostensibly to do character research for her new film – but really to sort out young, gay, pushover Walt (Byron Lane), whose recent breakup has pushed him to the brink.
Lenk enters with all the appropriate drama and applause befitting one dragged up as Swinton. This drag version of Swinton is ethereal, perceptive and intense, like the actress, but also cutthroat, narcissistic and entirely unconcerned by the idea that Walt might off himself – she just wants enough time to study his mannerisms first.
Invocation of various Mary Poppins tropes sets up the premise very effectively, including a measuring tape that measures Walt as not ‘practically perfect in every way’ but ‘drab’ and an incredibly large handbag, although the first ten minutes or so scrabble slightly until the show really gets into its own swing.
The dialogue and humour is at times excruciatingly American, but this only makes Lenk’s caricatured English oddness more hilarious. There are delightfully vicious takedowns – Eddie Redmayne in particular gets a mauling and even our darling Meryl isn’t safe from a vicious one-liner. You’ll also discover many roles you didn’t know Swinton had actually previously taken on – purple in The Color Purple, the role of Christmas in Die Hard, obviously. Silly, small things become hilarious – Lenk’s pronunciation of ‘Tim Burton’ or the word ‘Christmas’; a device in which a snap of the fingers changes the lighting. There’s even a lovely hint at audience participation – be warned, you may get your pint stolen.
Though the other actors support Lenk well, this is a one-woman show at its heart and it would perhaps flow more smoothly without the physical introduction of the peripheral characters, who never manage to quite come to life, remaining as 2D as if they had been peeled off the page.
The ending is all-American, too, and though one might pretend to regret it for its neat, sweet wrap-up, it is enjoyable and satisfying. For a show that does indeed take a while to warm up to its premise, the extent to which by the end we are eating out of Tom Lenk’s hand is incredible. Like, seriously. I would eat food out of that man’s hand. I would lick Tom Lenk’s hand.

Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist, until 17 February, VAULT Festival

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