Vortex of Escalation

“I am not your punch bag.  I am a member of parliament!”


James Corden as Alec and Anna Maxwell Martin as Monica. (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

I saw The Constituent on Election Day 2024 when many new, young and female MPs will be taking on their job as a member of parliament for the first time, and others will be looking for another career.  Joe Penhall’s play is about Monica (Anna Maxwell Martin), her former career as a solicitor, who now holds open surgeries for her constituents and is an opposition MP. 

We have read about Jo Cox and David Amess both MPs and stabbed where they were helping constituents.  Initially Alec (James Corden) is installing a security system at the MP’s office, an alarm system and a panic button for her.  Alec reminds Monica that they were at primary school together and that their mothers knew each other.  He also lives in her constituency and says he voted for her.

Alec starts to reveal his history: his time in Afghanistan in the army and some of the horrors he saw.  He discloses that his marriage is in trouble, his wife is living with his two sons in the family home, together with a policeman boyfriend.  Alec comes back to see Monica again and on each visit she will find out unsettling things about him that mean that he is unlikely to regain shared care arrangements for his children at the Family Court. 

James Corden as Alec and Anna Maxwell Martin as Monica. (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

In this state of the nation play we realise how little NHS psychiatric welfare is helping Alec with what is undoubtedly PTSD, mental health and with the breakdown of his marriage.  The Family Court is not attempting mediation but protecting his wife and children as explained to Alec by Monica.  He has said some unwise things which are classified as threats.  He says that this is how soldiers talk.

At a Zoom meeting Monica takes advice from Mellor (Zachary Hart) a police security expert who tells her not to show any empathy towards Alec and to set boundaries.  However Monica’s attempts at de-escalation fail, and things escalate until it all gets serious and dangerous. 

James Corden as Alec, Zachary Hart as Mellor and Anna Maxwell Martin as Monica. (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

It is Joe Penhall’s whip smart dialogue which makes The Constituent worth seeing.  Plus of course, James Corden’s tip top delivery where he hardly lets Monica reply, such is his stream of explanation of his actions.  Anna Maxwell Martin is the perfect foil with her considered replies when we get a chance to hear them.  She is always reasonable and contained.  A leak to the press has disastrous consequences which ups the stakes for all. 

It is interesting to see Mellor giving Monica a stab vest which she can only conceal under her clothing with difficulty.  A meeting is called with Mellor, in uniform, mediating in the form of restorative justice but I won’t tell you the outcome. Rob Howell’s set is initially a functional office with the MP behind her desk but later a more accessible place with a low table and flowers. 

I really enjoyed the brilliant performances from Corden and Martin and of course, Matthew Warchus’s faultless direction will mean full houses for this play.  There are also moments when we are allowed to laugh but the last cataclysmic quarter of an hour will stay with you.

Anna Maxwell Martin as Monica. (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

Production Notes

The Constituent

Written by Joe Penhall

Directed by Matthew Warchus



James Corden

Anna Maxwell Martin

Zachary Hart


Director:  Matthew Warchus

Designer:  Rob Howell

Movement Director: Steven Hoggett

Lighting Designer: Hugh Vanstone

Sound Designer: 

Jay Jones, Simon Baker

Fight Director: Terry King


Running Time: One hour 30 minutes without an interval

Booking to 10th August 2024


Old Vic

The Cut


London SE1 8NB

Tube/Rail : Waterloo

Telephone: 0344 871 7628

Website: oldvictheatre.com

Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge

at the Old Vic

at the performance 

on 4th July 2024