Theatre Review - Nye

Michael Sheen in Nye [Johan Persson]

WE first meet Michael Sheen’s Aneurin “Nye” Bevan, the Welsh Labour politician, credited with founding the British National Health Service, at the end of his life. He’s in hospital after an operation for a stomach ulcer.

The doctor has discovered cancer but his wife, Scottish Labour MP Jennie Lee (Sharon Small), doesn’t want to tell him.

We follow Nye on a morphine-induced trip into his past. Tim Price’s engaging play charts Nye’s rise from miner’s son to become Minister of Health in Clement Attlee’s government, and his greatest achievement – the creation of the NHS on July 5, 1948.

Price combines key political events with telling insights into Nye’s character. From the bullying headmaster at school, who made his stutter more pronounced and his love of books, through his early days as a bolshy trade unionist to his triumphant arrival in Westminster.

Although Nye covers a lot of ground in two-and-a-half hours, some may feel that Price only scratches the surface of the hot-headed Welshman’s life.

Others may want more about Lee’s own political career and achievements – she set up the Open University – and what she sacrificed for her husband.

But this is Nye’s story and Rufus Norris’s fleet-footed production is hard to fault.

Sheen gives a tremendous performance (clad in pyjamas throughout) and the spectacular staging, aided by a brilliant ensemble, Vicki Mortimer’s set, Paule Constable’s lighting and Jon Driscoll’s film projection, is exhilarating.

One dazzling scene, when Nye breaks into song and dance, recalls Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective, while another with Nye cradling his miner father as he dies of “black lung” disease is heart-breaking.

Compelling drama and a timely reminder of Nye’s legacy.

Until May 11

Orignally published by Westminster Extra