The last time a star actor turned playwright appeared in his own play in the West End it was Matthew Perry in The End of Longing and it looked for all the world like a kind of vanity project given a degree of authenticity by its thinly-veiled sense of autobiography. But now Jesse Eisenberg -- the new king of actors seemingly custom-built to play geeks and nerds -- has brought his third play to London from Off-Broadway, and it's altogether more interesting and disquieting.
Playing a doped-out New York film school drop-out, living in a plush Manhattan apartment funded by his father that has a picture-postcard view of the Empire State Building, Eisenberg is a wastrel and arch manipulator. He's the spoilt rich kid who just has to get whatever he wants: in this case, it is a girl he has hankered for since junior school, and about whom he has had dark erotic dreams, who is now engaged to be married to a banker. Meanwhile, he's also unhealthily bonded to his flatmate, a Nepalese business student, and resents his medical student girlfriend.
The stage is set for confrontation between these two happy couples and the loner in their midst. But Eisenberg's Ben doesn't provoke an open fight, but needles and whines his way into trying to put himself at the centre of everyone's attention.
As played with a magnetic repulsiveness and yet vulnerability by Eisenberg, he is certainly the centre of our attention watching the play. But Elliott's production is also evenly balanced by having a fine ensemble around him, including The Big Bang Theory's Kunal Nayyar as flatmate Kalyan, Annapurna Sriram as Kalyan's girlfriend, Katie Brayben as the childhood sweetheart that never was, Game of Thrones star Alfie Allen as her partner.
This portrait of one of life's misfits and the impact he has on others is slightly reminiscent of the plays of Neil LaBute, but its redeemed by a sweet sense of redemption that makes him out to be not entirely destructive.
It's a welcome London debut for Eisenberg as both playwright and actor.
What the popular press had to say...
"The Spoils is a whole different ball-game, with a genuine must-see star performance at its centre."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph
"I don’t deny that Eisenberg can write and has inherited Woody Allen’s comedic gift for exploring neurosis. But, at the end, I still found myself asking why we should be asked to care about the travails of a privileged New York brat."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"There aren’t enough juicy laughs or dramatic highs."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard