In my years of covering theatre, I’ve seen a lot of Hollywood stars make their West End debuts, but I’ve rarely, if ever, seen it done with quite so much aplomb. Jesse Eisenberg and Kunal Nayyar – best known internationally for, respectively, multiple films including The Social Network, and US sitcom The Big Bang Theory – are both totally at home onstage and totally at ease with one another.
They exude buddy chemistry – I hear they’re firm friends in real life too – having honed their relationship in the Off-Broadway premiere of The Spoils in which they play a 21st-century Odd Couple. Jesse is Ben, a highly-strung, work-shy Woody Allen-style Jewish American prince; Kunal is Kalyan, his ambitious Nepalese flatmate who also happens to be “the sweetest guy in the world”, which he has to be to put up with Jesse’s narcissism and casual cruelties.
Their pairing is bolstered by three great supporting performances: Katie Brayben and Alfie Allen (brother of Lily, son of Keith and now of Game of Thrones) are Sarah and Teddy, old school friends of Jesse’s who are now engaged (much to the chagrin of Ben who is obsessed with Sarah), and Annapurna Sriram reprises her New York role as Reshma, Kalyan’s vacuous med school girlfriend.
While much of the media and fan interest around Eisenberg’s London stint in The Spoils is no doubt linked to the imminent release of his next films (Now You See Me 2 and Woody Allen’s Café Society), for me, the really astute timing is to open The Spoils – which the frighteningly multi-talented Eisenberg also wrote – in the run-up the European referendum.
As hysterical headlines about the perils of immigration dominate our newspaper headlines, The Spoils offers a sane and truthful antidote. Fear of immigrants – as encapsulated by Ben in the play – is more often a product of misplaced superiority, inadequacy and self-loathing. Anyone thinking of voting to leave should see this play before polling day on 23 June (and read the Evening Standard interview with Eisenberg below)…
I’ve rounded up some of the other key overnight reviews, news and features below.