‘The Spoils’ marks Jesse Eisenbergs West End debut, and what a debut it is. He has both written and stars in the play, alongside a stellar cast that are simply mesmerising to watch. This is not his first play and indeed, The Spoils has already played off-Broadway in 2015.
Jesse plays ‘Ben’, a narcissistic, weed smoking dropout living in an apartment bought by his father. He has little care for much in the world and he attempts to ‘do something with his life’ by making films, determined to earn an honorary PHD from the grad school that kicked him out. The character is thoroughly obnoxious, filled with hate and self loathing, he blames this on a terrible childhood that, we find out, wasn’t that terrible at all.
Despite the characters blinding flaws, the play centres around his relationship with a group of friends. Mainly with his Flatmate, ‘Kalyan’, a Nepalese immigrant trying to make it in the world of Corporate America. Kalyan appears to be the ideal flatmate and friend. Kunal Nayyar plays this role perfectly, we love him almost instantly. His television success not withstanding, Nayyar has proved himself to be a superb and commanding stage actor in this role, balancing drama and comedy with signature style.
Alfie Allen is ‘Ted’ an old school friend that comes back in to Bens life following a chance meeting in the street. Ben despises Ted and insults him at every opportunity, yet Ted fails to recognise this and interprets it all as a big joke, he truly believes he’s part of a bromance and almost worships Ben for it. Allen is also making his West End debut and is simply wonderful in the role, bringing out the naive vulnerability of the character.
Katie Brayben, fresh from ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Story’, and ‘My Mother Said I Never Should’, is ‘Sarah’, Ben has been in love with Sarah since childhood, and now that she is engaged to Ted, he tries to win her back in his own, ultimately, twisted way. Brayben is fresh and bold in the role showing her West End versatility.
Annapurna Sriram completes the line up, playing ‘Reshma’, this seems to be the only character that truly hates Ben, yet cleverly, Eisenberg leads the audience to dislike Reshma instead.
This has to be one of the best ensemble casts gathered on a West End stage and Nayall and Eisenberg are a real tour de force. The latters performance is electric and never halting, he seems to be constantly talking, moving, drawing the audience in. We’ve seen snippets of Eisenberg in this role before; in ‘The Social Network’ or in his two previous plays, ‘Asuncion’ and ‘The Revisionist’. But this feels like his crowning glory, instead of hating the character, we are mesmerised and horrified all at once and then, slowly, we begin to understand.
Jesse Eisenbergs new play is a fascinating and compelling piece of theatre that delivers a good dose of drama and comedy in equal measure. A much needed addition to the West End that should not be missed.