Where? Trafalgar Studios
When? Saturday 16th July 7.30pm
Written by? Jesse Eisenberg
Directed by? Scott Elliott
Who’s in it? Jesse Eisenberg, Kunal Nayyar, Alfie Allen, Katie Brayben, Annapurna Sriram
We could be in a television studio watching the filming of a sitcom – the interior New York apartment setting gives off that vibe straight away, almost preparing us for something in the vein of Friends or Big Bang Theory. It’s a weird mash-up of stage and screen, especially with the cast being plucked from TV land themselves. It’s lulled us in to a false sense of security really – what follows IS a laugh-out-loud situational comedy, but with a much darker theme reserved for more serious drama.
The play revolves around Eisenberg’s character Ben – much like his own world does. There’s nothing new about this character, we’ve met him many times before in pretty much every other role he’s played. He’s the same neurotic, narcissistic mess as always… Yet, it doesn’t feel stale. There’s many avenues to explore with this personality type – every situation and social gathering is potentially volatile concoction, and we want to be there when the ingredients get shaken and the top pops off.
Which it does. The explosive element here is the return of his former childhood crush, Sarah, and the fact she’s engaged to one of their other school-mates – the non-offensive, bland Ted. Combine this with a gentle, dominated flatmate, and his feisty girlfriend who loathes Ben and it’s one catalyst of a dinner party.
Kunal Nayyar brought the calm to the storm convincingly, as put-upon flat mate Kalyan, sprinkled with an impeccable sense of comic timing. He is infinitely more likeable than Ben and gives us someone identifiable, someone to provide balance in Ben’s topsy-turvy world. Although, he still felt like Big Bang’s Raj, in a slightly different guise.
The Spoils not only offers compelling drama but an abundance of awkward comedy too – Eisenberg’s speciality. His gangling gait and natural predisposition toward anxiety gives a credibility to the situation and lets us laugh freely, if not occasionally uncomfortably. There’s a particular story Ben shares, of a childhood dream that’ll cause mass seat squirming – especially when he decides to share it with the dream girl herself.
As the play progressively veers away from jibes, barbs and cringe-worthy moments into much darker territory, this is reflected in a growing mess in the apartment; Not exactly on original technique – much the same happens in Jamie Lloyd’s Doctor Faustus – but is still an interesting visual metaphor for the spoils of his inner turmoil.
It’s all wrapped up in a rather unsatisfying ending – a cheesy moment where the three high school friends stare off into the middle distance to equally cheesy music, following a weak anecdote, promising the possibility for redemption. But don’t let this sour the experience; it’s about the journey not the destination, and there’s a lot packed in this production to make it worth the ride (befittingly cheesy review ending).