The Spoils, Trafalgar Studios, review: 'Game of Thrones' Theon Greyjoy and Jesse Eisenberg star'

PUBLISHED: 12:00 07 June 2016

Alfie Allen, left, and Jesse Eisenberg in The Spoils. Picture: Oliver Rosser

Alfie Allen, left, and Jesse Eisenberg in The Spoils. Picture: Oliver Rosser

Oliver Rosser

Not content with playing narcissistic misfits in Hollywood movies like The Social Network, actor-turned-writer Jesse Eisenberg is creating them for himself.

In his third play, he’s a weed-smoking failed filmmaker, loafing around the swanky Manhattan apartment his father bought him, and alternately patronising and tormenting his hard-working Nepalese roommate.

“The most interesting characters are initially difficult to like,” Ben pontificates, and The Spoils takes that as its mission statement, giving us an arrogant, self-loathing, needy misanthrope whose emotional development stalled aged eight, when he developed a crush on school friend Sarah.

She’s now engaged to banker Ted, but Ben sets about winning her affections in cringe-worthy fashion, climaxing in a failed date where his pushy “niceness” tips over into aggression.

It’s a showy central role, and Eisenberg excels at the fast-talking, neurotic, un-PC scorn and live-wire physicality, but he’s more a walking think-piece on toxic millennial privilege than an actual human being.

Yet Eisenberg the playwright is determined to win our sympathy – by dubious, late-in-the-game manipulation, if nothing else.

Scott Elliott’s fluid if overlong US production has a good combination of British and American talent.

Annapurna Sriram excels as Kalyan’s pushy girlfriend Reshma, who has the good sense to loathe Ben, and Game of Thrones’s Alfie Allen is a delight as the happily oblivious Ted. As accommodating Kalyan and compassionate Sarah respectively, Nayyar and Katie Brayben bring real heart, but their continued tolerance of Ben is baffling.

That’s the real problem here. Eisenberg crafts smart dialogue and enjoyable comic set-pieces, but this is more a broad, cynical sitcom – with sleek Friends-esque apartment set from Derek McLane – than layered theatre.

Too much self-analysis makes for a passive audience experience, and, like Ben’s staged documentary, it ditches hard-won engagement for flashy shortcuts.

The Spoils is at Trafalgar Studios.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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