Review: The Spoils, Trafalgar Studios

“Any movie that is commercialised is necessarily a piece of shit”

Having had my fingers burned by Zach Braff, I steered clear of Matthew Perry, but the lure of Olivier-award-winning (for Beautiful) and 3-time fosterIAN award nominee Katie Brayben suckered me in for Jesse Eisenberg (combined with not having to pay for the ticket hehe, hurrah for other people’s poor planning). The West End clearly has a tradition of proving a (too-welcoming) home for US actors with self-penned plays to put on and the latest to try their luck here is Eisenberg with The Spoils.

In some ways it’s an unfair comparison, Braff and Perry were first-time playwrights and the air of vanity project was thus hard to shake off; The Spoils is Eisenberg’s third play so he’s at least a bit more committed to the cause. That said, for me, on this evidence I’d rate him much more as a actor than as a writer. At the heart of the play is the anti-heroic Ben (played by himself, natch), a gift of a role in terms of its compelling awfulness but ultimately a frustrating character to watch as there’s little more to him than this one note.

Ben is a soi-disant filmmaker who spends most of his time in his swanky NY apartment, paid for by his father, being awful. He lives with Kalyan (a good Kunal Nayyar, star of The Big Bang Theory), a Nepalese student who he treats like shit yet still somehow inspiring puppyish loyalty, and when he bumps into a former schoolfriend Ted (Game of Thrones’ Theon Greyjoy) who is now engaged to his first crush Sarah (Brayben), he invites them over for a dinner party and treats them like shit too. So on, and so forth, and so wearing.

As charismatic an actor as Eisenberg is, and he really is – it’s a cracking performance of psychological intensity that fills the breadth of Derek McLane’s set – without the depth of character to give Ben some kind of rationale, some kind of essential humanity, it’s hard to really care that much. Annapurna Sriram’s Reshma – Kalyan’s other half – completes the company with some considered work but for a play stretching towards 3 hours, too little happens dramatically and Scott Elliott’s direction veers uncomfortably towards the horrific with some strange choices.

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 13th August

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