Photo: Manuel Harlan

There was a substantial amount of hype already for Joe Penhall’s new play The Constituent: it marks James Corden’s return to the London stage after more than a decade, his last role being a Tony-winning turn in One Man, Two Guvnors. He plays the role of the titular constituent, Alec; opposite him is Anna Maxwell Martin (best known for Line of Duty) who plays Monica, the local MP. The pair meet when Alec is installing some security equipment at Monica’s office, though we soon establish they went to primary school together. They are joined on stage by Zachary Hart in the role of Mellor, a parliamentary protection officer.

It feels like a timely, urgent production: the play was announced before the general election, but the political backdrop couldn’t be more fortuitous for a play like this. The Constituent is clearly thoroughly-researched and touches on a whole range of recent issues, from the more mainstream political discourse topics such as the cost of living crisis and the aftermath of the pandemic, through to important issues which may not be quite so widely discussed, like strategies for tackling violence against women and girls.

The play moves at a fair pace – it crams a lot into its 90-minute run time (straight through, no interval). While much of the discussion is pretty serious there are also plenty of entertaining moments, with lots of witty remarks and observations. It looks great, too: while the staging is may be simple, the theatre has been reconfigured in a way that really helps us focus on what’s directly in front of us – we shan’t spoil how, but it works well.

What’s most impressive about this performance, however, is the quality of the acting on stage. Both our lead characters are convincing, telling their respective compelling stories; we invested in both Alec and Monica, we empathised with their situations, and we were genuinely curious to see how their stories would unfold and where they might both end up. The role of Mellor occasionally feels somewhat lacking, sadly – it’s all a bit simple and obvious, with only a couple of minor twists and turns which we found a bit predictable.

That aside we were genuinely impressed with The Constituent – it’s a slight play, but one that really packs a punch. There’s some great writing in here and fantastic acting to boot. It’s a compelling social commentary, and one that’s opened at The Old Vic at a rather opportune moment. Well worth checking out.

GAY TIMES gives The Constituent – 4/5

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