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I had to stop myself shouting "Hallelujah!": Nickie Aiken reviews 'The Constituent'

L-R: James Corden as Alec, Zachary Hart as Mellor and Anna Maxwell Martin as Monica | Photographer Manuel Harlan; image courtesy of The Old Vic

Nickie Aiken

Nickie Aiken

3 min read

Make the short walk over Westminster Bridge to The Old Vic and see this superb new play portraying the reality of modern-day politics. Seasoned MPs: prepared to be triggered. New MPs: approach with caution…

“I’m not your punchbag, I am a Member of Parliament!” How many times have I wanted to scream the same sentence over the last four and half years? Sadly, too many. For me it was the stand-out line of the night in The Constituent, at The Old Vic. I had to stop myself shouting out “Hallelujah!” during the performance.

Joe Penhall’s play goes some way to acknowledging the reality of modern-day politics. Well-meaning and hard-working individuals who want to make a difference juggle family life, increased security risks in the social media world, and the needs of constituents, many of whom are suffering from mental illness.

The play stars Anna Maxwell Martin (Motherland, Line of Duty) as Monica, a backbench MP devoted to helping her community. It also marks James Corden’s return to the stage since One Man, Two Guvnors. Corden plays Alec, a veteran of Afghanistan whose family life has broken down and who faces losing access to his children in a pending family court case due to his erratic behaviour and threats towards his wife and new partner.

The opening scene finds Alec installing a new security system in Monica’s office. The conversation turns to Alec’s problems and him asking for his MP’s help. Monica is polite but firm that MPs cannot become involved in court cases and tries unsuccessfully to steer Alec away from beginning a campaign highlighting fathers’ rights.

Anna Maxwell Martin nails the portrayal of an MP

Maxwell Martin nails the portrayal of an MP. I recognised many colleagues, and perhaps even elements of myself, in her. Corden demonstrated what a superb actor he truly is, particularly in the final scene where his character seemed nearly unrecognisable from the first scene, his demise so complete. 

The one negative for me in the play was the portrayal of a police officer whose character was nothing like the professional individuals I have dealt with in recent months, having had a serious harassment case to deal with. I did leave wondering whether the play actually needed this third character, though that should take nothing away from Zachary Hart’s performance as the officer. 

The ConstituentAt times, watching the play was like experiencing flashbacks. It was slightly triggering, if I am being honest. Modern UK politics is in a very sorry state of affairs and The Constituent to some extent unveils the serious security risks MPs face today and the need for an increase in personal security, including stab vests. It also highlighted that much of our casework does involve people with mental health issues.

As an experienced MP, I noted immediately in the first scene that Alec was likely suffering from PTSD and needed professional help. Monica does suggest counselling but I do think most MPs would have ensured their constituent accessed help from Veterans Aid or similar and would have prevented an escalation. 

Our abundance of new MPs may wish to make the short walk over Westminster Bridge to The Old Vic to see The Constituent. But perhaps not. We don’t want to put them off before they even begin their Commons careers! 

Nickie Aiken was the Conservative MP for Cities of London and Westminster from 2019 to 2024

The Constituent
Written by: Joe Penhall
Directed by: Matthew Warchus
Venue: The Old Vic, London SE1; until 10 August
 

 

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