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The Constituent at The Old Vic | Review

The Constituent has a degree of contemporary relevance regardless of its run beginning as the country was heading towards a General Election, though I wonder how much resonance it would have a generation or two from now if it were to be revived. I wouldn’t go as far as to call this a ‘state of the nation’ play – the Member of Parliament, Monica (Anna Maxwell Martin) is a tad too squeaky clean, even for a self-confessed “opposition backbencher”, whilst Mellor (Zachary Hart) is too stereotypically – if comically – inept as a ‘PC Plod’ (and I’m being polite) that ironically one is almost inclined to have some sympathy towards the police. I’m not quite sure what state the country would be in if they really were all like him (which, for the record, they are not) – at the very least, ‘policing by consent’ would no longer exist.

James Corden, Zachary Hart and Anna Maxwell Martin in The Constituent at The Old Vic – credit Manuel Harlan
James Corden, Zachary Hart and Anna Maxwell Martin in The Constituent at The Old Vic – credit Manuel Harlan

Monica isn’t the sort of MP that makes tabloid headlines – when Alec (James Corden) draws up an invoice for installing security equipment in her office, she wants him to invoice her directly, rather than an accountant. (We’ll set aside, having suspended disbelief at the theatre doors and all that, that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) states: “We fund all recommended security measures [directly] to keep MPs, their staff and their families safe”.) She refuses to give false testimony after being put under pressure to do so by Mellor to secure a conviction against an alleged perpetrator despite a lack of concrete evidence. She becomes, in effect, the ‘good cop’ to Mellor’s ‘bad cop’. When an attempt at ‘restorative justice’ goes awry, Alec and Mellor exchange blows, with the former receiving a custodial sentence for assaulting a police officer, and the latter, well, getting a proverbial slap on the wrist.

As the show progresses it increasingly loses subtlety, until all three characters are making very blunt statements. “I can’t lie,” the MP declares, as if to add, ‘and if you believe that, that’s your prerogative’. Alec somewhat overshares his personal circumstances with Monica (in the context of having had his trust betrayed before by her, even if she was placed under psychological duress by a tabloid newspaper), while Mellor reveals that he did what he thought was necessary, regardless of the truth, to get what he wanted.

The production suggests that the country is in danger of hardly anybody wanting to become a parliamentarian because no amount of salary and expense claims would be enough to make up for the amount of abuse the likes of Monica receive – worse still are the threats to commit crimes against the person, and worst of all are threats against her dependent children. The play doesn’t suggest any solutions to these (beyond donning a stab vest) or to any of the other pertinent issues it raises, and in Alec’s eventual utterly bereft state seems to lie writer Joe Penhall’s own approach towards the future: what’s the point?

The dialogue is often interrupted by phone calls, and I’m not sure how indicative of the modern world that really is: most communication on any given day, in my experience, is over email, social media and instant messaging services. The show does well to throw in an example of a Zoom meeting, complete with buffering pauses, though too often the audience, sat as it is on two sides of the stage, is trying to make sense of one side of a voice phone call.

Rob Howell’s set design is unfussy and uncluttered, allowing the focus to remain largely on the dialogue. The actors do more than a reasonable job with what they are given, and the play raises some valid points about the constraints and dilemmas faced by politicians and policemen alike.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

James Corden – Alec
Anna Maxwell Martin – Monica
Zachary Hart – Mellor

Joe Penhall – Writer
Matthew Warchus – Director
Rob Howell – Set and Costume Design
Hugh Vanstone – Lighting Design
Simon Baker – Sound Designer
Jay Jones – Sound Design
Oscar Toeman – Associate Director

I am not your punch bag! I am a Member of Parliament!

An MP with an instinct for compassion.

An ex-serviceman with a life in free fall.

And a parliamentary protection officer who’s having none of it. 

The Old Vic
13 June to 10 August 2024


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