At once energetic and breathtakingly self obsessed, Jesse Eisenberg’s protagonist, Ben never initially exudes malicious intent, however by the end of Act One, you are left wondering how on earth we are expected to empathise with such a huge knob-head. Eisenberg’s debut West-End play, The Spoils certainly takes us and its emotional centre on a bit of a white knuckler as Ben’s true colours are revealed in an explosion of defecated reading material but it is extraordinarily difficult to be in any way sympathetic towards him.
Beginning life off-Broadway last year, The Spoils is Eisenberg’s third self-penned play. Half of the cast have stayed for the Trafalgar Studios’ run and are joined by Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones) and Katie Brayben (Beautiful – the Carole King Musical).
Ben (Eisenberg) lives in a flash apartment in Manhattan, bought for him by his dad with flat mate and only friend, Kalyan (Kunal Nayyar – The Big Bang Theory) who has come from Nepal to make it on Wall Street. Despite his unfortunate aspirations, Kalyan, who is mildly obsessed with slide shows, is a sweet and patient man who must also deal with the back-handed and pushiness of girl-friend Reshma (Annapurna Sriram). Ben has been thrown out of Film School but not to have his spirits dampened, still claims to be an exceptional auteur with no original ideas of his own. School friend Ted (Allen – impressively endearing) has just returned to Ben’s life and much to the latter’s many disdains, discovers he is engaged to another childhood pal, Sarah with whom Ben has decided is undying love belongs to.
The play itself doesn’t feel particularly electric or energetic, but I’m sure it doesn’t intend to or claim to be. The events and tone of the piece remain consistently levelled until some of the final moments which see some disbelief and screaming. Oh, and a little bit of violence. The Spoils is quick, the humour very sharp and intelligent which one must applaud Eisenberg for. The characters are all impressively fleshed out and individual, contrasting immensely against each other but complimenting strongly. Scott Elliot’s production gives us real life. There’s nothing contrived about what we see here with the smallest, almost nondescript moments, such as Reshma retreating to the balcony for a cigarette and sneakily listening in to Ben’s rants providing the most relatable and thus powerful.
Nayyar is a world away from the character he is most well known for in The Big Bang Theory. His is the man we feel most for as he is tortured by his so-called best friend, accepting his practically sociopathic ways before facing the ultimate betrayal. He is the mesh holding the group together. Ben and Reshma’s relationship is an interesting one, presented as playground teasing (the lines Eisenberg has with Sriram provide some of the most appreciative laughs) and veer dangerously close to taking the black from the comedy. Allen is believably naive but one must wonder whether he is as dumb as he appears and Brayben is great in yet another change in direction, in this low-key affair.
The Spoils asks us to truly think about whether someone with atrocious motives can be absolved. Eisenberg’s Ben is clearly vulnerable and self-destructive but at what point do you say enough is enough? The real Ben is never revealed which honestly is more of a negative aspect of this play’s development. Despite this, the piece is very good and Eisenberg is clearly a force to be reckoned with.
The Spoils is playing the Trafalgar Studios until August 13. For more information and tickets, see Trafalgar Studios website.