Exuberantly strange and at times snort-worthily funny, Byron Lane’s light comedy offers the only sensible explanation for the joyous peculiarities of Tilda Swinton, the international star who once slept in a glass box for a week: she is simply not of this world. Starring Tom Lenk of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame, this is a witty and weird show, with a tinge of sincerity as it nods to the way movies help us connect to the people we love.
Walt (Lane) is midway through a suicide attempt when a bubble-wrapped Swinton swoops into his apartment, having seen the advert for a spare room that Walt’s ex-boyfriend Bobby posted. Delighting in Walt’s every tragedy, she takes him as a character study for her next sure-to-be-Oscar-worthy role.
Lenk is brilliant in drag as the ethereal oddity, every move executed with flamboyance. “I don’t do maths,” Swinton says, “just cheekbones.” She tips into the territory of spirit guru as she meddles in Walt’s personal life, helping him confront his emotionally unbalanced parents and cheating ex (the quick-changing Mark Jude Sullivan and Jayne Entwistle).
The show wryly takes the piss out of acting, and no star is safe from Swinton’s takedowns. Poor Eddie Redmayne. But behind the low blows are sweet suggestions of the healing power of stories. Snapping into a beautifully lit other dimension, Swinton rids each character of their burdens with lo-fi movie magic, her white outfit radiating a DIY-arthouse glow. It’ll be funnier for movie buffs, but works a treat regardless of how many references you can cross off.
The humour takes a while to warm to, with the first 10 minutes feeling like the start of an amateur American musical, about to break into song any second. But once it has settled, the show is resplendent in its oddness, with Tom DeTrinis’s direction leaving everything slightly askew.
Lenk’s comic timing and Lane’s willowy nerves make a delightful partnership, and it’s not hard to understand why this show has become a cult hit in the US. It’s a little scrappy and a tad repetitive but unapologetically outlandish and a reminder that life is hard, joyous and dumb; we really should take it less seriously.