★★★★ by Ifan Llewelyn
The VAULT Festival is in full swing, and as always brings with it a slew of theatre that has you furrowing your brows. Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist was definitely one of that instantly piqued our interest quite early on. We had to head over and see how the master of stage, screen and translucent skin would navigate this world of anonymous gay hook-ups, free couches and spare rooms to rent. It’s safe to say it was just as bombastic as expected.
Following some rough technical issues, the stage was finally set for suicidal young pipsqueak Walt to take to the stage, for whom a pickle-ridden burger is the last straw. Surrounded by the detritus of his life, the resulting debris of a bad break up, he’s clearly crashing and burning distinctly unimpressively. Manifesting out of a thin white mist, like a fairy god second-cousin-twice-removed, comes Oscar-winning ethereal being Tilda Swinton who finds him just depressing enough to study for her next role.
Despite some cumbersome prop use, there are real moments of physical comedy genius. From the moment Tilda (portrayed by Tom Lenk) steps on stage, you’re at ease in her capable hands from the moment she whips out a lace table-cloth from her waist. She commands the stage, arms extended, and embraces the audience into a bombastic world of mystic espressos and intergalactic travel. What Lenk really brings to the table is itself a character study that brilliantly caricatures Swinton’s more idiosyncratic behaviour, taking them way beyond hilarity. If you’re into obscene references in the style of anything Tina Faye’s involved in, from 30 Rock to The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmit, then you’re going to eat this show up.
What truly brings this show’s comedy to another level is the side-splitting physical comedy of Tilda as she gets into character as Walt with swinging gorilla arms, and her complete freedom in swishing across the stage, throwing herself on the floor and getting right up to commence swishing. In meeting the people in Walt’s life who have wronged him, from the out-of-his-league ex-boyfriend, his overbearing mother, to his stern stone-faced father, Tilda is instantly hit with a sudden recollection of her previous roles. These moments hilariously deconstructs these somewhat cliched characters, though sometimes confused those of us not intimately familiar with her IMDB page.
The show has previously thrilled audiences on the fringe comedy circuits, from San Francisco to New York, and this was it’s London debut. The show feels distinctly American, with some gestures to a state-side zeitgeist lost on many us like Oprah Winfrey being ‘God’, whereas in the UK we know there is but one god and her name is Judi Dench. Some work in re-jigging the reference in a show forged on pop culture references would have made the production more accessible to a British audience. Nonetheless, to any avid consumer of American media those references are on point, and usually hilarious.
Tilda Swinton Answers an Ad on Craigslist is a raucous romp that is equal parts bombastic and ludicrous. An evening of rough-edged hilarity that is sure to leave you giggling all the way home, with your Swinton selfie as your sickening new iPhone wallpaper.
Tilda Swinton Answers and Ad on Craigslist is running as part of VAULT Festival, Leake St, Lambeth SE1 7NN until the 17th of February. For your tickets visit VAULTFestival.com.