Reviews Roundup: The Constituent

The Old Vic

James Corden returns to the West End stage to star alongside acting superstar Anna Maxwell Martin in a relatively small play by Joe Penhall about a confrontation between an angry constituent and his basically decent MP. The Old Vic’s artistic director Matthew Warchus directs, putting the audience, traverse style, on two sides of a narrow stage for this look at the state of Britain and its politics. The critics praised the two leads but there were mixed feelings about the play: two really liked it and one handed out two stars.

[Links to full reviews are included but a number are behind paywalls and therefore may not be accessible]

The Guardian’s Arifa Akbar (4★) was a cheerleader: ‘Played straight through at 90 minutes and resolutely focused on local politics, it becomes universal by being so specific.’ She pointed out, ‘Each of these characters is a victim of the system, hanging on, just’. She thought, ‘Maxwell Martin is subtly brilliant’

Aliya Al-Hassan for Broadway World (4★) also approved wholeheartedly. ‘Penhall’s script is not a polemic and brings out the humanity in the characters’. She liked both the main actors, saying, ‘The pair have excellent chemistry and their shifting relationship is very believable.’

For Sarah Hemming in the Financial Times (4★) ‘Corden and Maxwell Martin are excellent’ and ‘Penhall’s play makes the case for more care and empathy. He reminds us of the other meaning of constituent — “to be part of a whole”.

Marianka Swain for LondonTheatre (4★) said, ‘The ideas occasionally supersede the people, but the strong cast, and a good amount of humour in Penhall’s script, keep us gripped.’

Natasha Tripney for the Standard (3★) thought ‘the surprisingly thin play squanders both its timely subject matter and the talents of the cast.’ She assured us, ‘Corden does a strong job, capturing the character’s intensity and increasing desperation’.

Sam Marlowe in The Stage (3★) thought it was a ‘crisp production’ and that ‘Penhall’s dialogue is packed with zap and zing’ She said ‘the performances are pretty much faultless’, however she found ‘the play is at once too narrow and too broad’.

Dominic Cavendish in the Telegraph (3★) thought ‘Penhall’s script…nicely handles the blend of comedy and darkening aggro.’ For him, James Corden was ‘all fixed intensity and hunched affability, then moves across 90 minutes to reveal a more bellicose side to the blustering persona, before showing us a sobbing emblem of broken Britain, alienated from the system’.

Susannah Clapp in The Observer (3★) found ‘The dialogue is heavy with explanation and the action slowed by overload’. She said James Corden showed ‘what a versatile actor he is.’ Time Out’s Andrzej Lukowski (3★) praised James Corden as ‘an actor of range and substance’ and thought ‘Maxwell Martin is terrific’, but he damned the play with faint praise as ‘decent’.

Alun Hood for WhatsOnStage (3★) thought the play was ‘enjoyable, tartly funny and almost reaches the tension level of a thriller’ but he had a reservation: ‘it smacks of a very fine writer wanting to dash off something relevant and timely, without really offering anything genuinely illuminating or new‘. He observed, ‘Corden isn’t a subtle actor, painting with broad, blunt colours, and possessed of a monotonous line delivery…but his unique combination of manic energy, bluster and simmering aggression work well for the character.’

It didn’t get CityAM ‘s (2) Adam Bloodworth’s vote.  He was contemptuous of its male star: ‘Corden is on auto-pilot’. He is hardly less complimentary about the play: ‘Joe Penhall’s script is full of jokes that don’t land and the set up is clunky and hard to believe.’ As for the production, ‘it’s over stylised to the point that it kills the drama’.

For The Times’ Clive Davis (2), the play was ‘tepid’, lines were ‘leaden’, Corden ‘can’t bring enough depth’, and Maxwell Martin ‘strikes a monotonously querulous note’.

Critics’ Average Rating 3.2

Value rating 42 (Value rating is the Average Critic Rating divided by the typical ticket price.)

The Constituent can be seen at the Old Vic until 10 August 2024. Buy tickets direct from The Old Vic

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