Review: Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist, VAULT Festival

You will never hear Keanu Reeves the same way again, Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist is a hilarious highlight of the VAULT Festival

“I don’t do maths, just cheekbones”

The more you think about it, Cate Blanchett probably is the mortal enemy of Tilda Swinton. Such are the thoughts that will run through your mind as you ponder the many and varied delights of Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist, the kind of extended comedy sketch that really shouldn’t work but turns out to be second-Oscar-winningly good.

Byron Lane’s play is the kind of thing that defies description, or rather description fails to do it justice. I could say bubble-wrap coat but that’s nothing compared to the swishiness of it in real life, Similarly, the wearing of lace tablecloths and scarves…both moments of inspired comedy and that’s just scratching the surface of Tilda’s outfit.  

She’s onstage because she’s answering a spare room ad placed by Bob, who has just walked out on boyfriend Walt who is now considering suicide. On the hunt for that second Academy Award, Swinton decides to move in to use Walt as the inspiration for her new Oscarbait movie. But as played by Tom Lenk, this version of the movie star is a superbly OTT rendition of artistic pretension which is consistently laugh-out-loud funny.

In terms of the narrative, she proves a quasi-Mary Poppins figure for Walt (a quietly stirring performance from Lane) in rebuilding his confidence as a young queer man. But Lenk also brings to mind something of Jennifer Saunder’s immortal Edina Monsoon in her all-encompassing deluded self-belief, it really is a comic performance for the ages, aided immeasurably by Lane’s whip-smart script which, as well as ripping mercilessly into many a Hollywood figure, works in UK reference points including a brilliant jab at the Sugababes.

And on top of all that, there’s an emotional integrity here too that really punches home, a sweetly profound note about the joy of movies and the importance of connecting with other people, someway, somehow. Tom Detrinis’ production thus never feels like a lightweight comedy but rather something that has the power to endure, particularly when fuelled by writing as funny as this and a central performance as iconic as this. 

Running time: 60 minutes (without interval)
Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist is booking at the VAULT Festival until 10th February

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