Phil was trying to remember other plays he’d seen where the writers also appear in their own efforts. Harold Pinter in No Man’s Land, Ian Kelly in Mr Foote’s Other Leg and Eric Potts in panto. And since he avoided Matthew Perry’s End of Longing, that was as far as he got.
But in The Spoils – which should probably be titled The Spoilt, or even The Soiled (but that would need an appropriate spoiler alert) – Jesse Eisenberg has endowed himself a humungous part as Ben, a privileged, bullying, dope-smoking, needy, self-absorbed, childish, racist monster, probably somewhere on the spectrum, who is also prone to very strange dreams. That we manage care about him at all is something of a miracle, even if he pushes this beyond the limit in Act 2 when he turns being a complete shit into an art form.
He’s shares his Daddy-gifted New York apartment (with spectacular views of the skyline including the Empire State building, that is if you’re not sitting in seats towards the left hand side of the auditorium, we only saw this as we exited the theatre at the end, presumably the view is reserved for those prepared to pay Premium Seat prices) with his only friend, the long-suffering, put-upon, decent Nepalese business student, Kalyan performed by Kunal Nayyar who is charming and extremely funny in a part not a million miles away from his Raj Koothrappali in Big Bang Theory and we wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
Ben fills his hours sniping at people when he’s not working on an apparent documentary film project. He has a chance encounter with a childhood chum Ted (Alfie Allen endearingly straight-laced and Tiggerish), who is about to marry Sarah (Katie Brayben, delightful) who Ben had an early crush on and sets about winning her for himself in a most peculiar way.
Scott Elliot‘s production is a riot, hilarious and engaging from the off, from Kalyan’s powerpoint presentation to his sharp medical student girlfriend Reshma (Annapurna Sriram, elegantly pushy and like Eisenberg and Nayyar also from the original New York production), through the eaten-with-fingers (might be time for Phil to dust off his food-on-stage thesis) and watched-through-fingers Nepalese dinner party of horrors to the best worst seduction scene you’ll ever see, which is nicely/horribly set up before interval to have the audience leaning forward aghast at what is to come.
Eisenberg gives a must-see performance, his quick-fire delivery takes a while to get your head round, but even his anxious, geeky movements, expressions and tics make him mesmerising to watch. If it wasn’t for the cast around him also performing so well, you might never take your eyes off him. Even scene interludes to Billy Joel songs are a delight, the pre-seduction one with Eisenberg and a bowl of popcorn is both splendidly choreographed and laugh-out-loud funny.
And good for the theatre for having an amusing mobile phone/audience behaviour warning (voiced by Nayyar). It worked a treat. This youngish audience behaved impeccably throughout, possibly because they were as enthralled as Phil. Only the feeling that it could use a little pruning and the slightly cloyingly, feels-very-American ending prevented this from receiving the top rating.