Friday 8 March 2024

Nye - Review

National Theatre, London


Written by Tim Price
Directed by Rufus Norris

Michael Sheen

Giving an extraordinary performance, Michael Sheen embodies Aneurin (Nye) Bevan in Tim Price’s new play. As Bevan lies dying of stomach cancer, Sheen takes us on a morphine-induced hallucination through the Welshman’s life, from his early career (following a brief stint down the mines) amidst the small town politics of Tredegar, through to his election as the MP for Ebbw Vale in 1929 and ultimately Cabinet Minister for Health and Housing and the visionary creator of the National Health Service in 1948.

In what is a fascinating analysis of both history and British socialism, Price’s narrative takes in Bevan’s unconventional yet loving marriage to Scottish MP Jennie Lee (fine work from Sharon Small) and sees him wittily spar with Tony Jayawardena’s brilliant cameo of Winston Churchill. Jon Furlong is equally brilliant, if repulsive, in his Mandelsonian take on Herbert Morrison (who was of course grandfather to the current Lord Mandelson). The other standout supporting roles are from Stephanie Jacob as Clement Attlee (driving a motorised No 10 desk around the stage), Rhodri Meilir as Bevan’s coal miner father David and Kezrena James as the starched yet supremely empathetic Nurse Ellie.

The story of the NHS’s formation is testament to Bevan’s strongly held belief in free health care for all at the point of need, forged from the iniquities of poverty and deprivation that he had seen in the Welsh mining valleys and throughout his career. Act Two’s revelation of the mercenary, self-preserving attitude of Britain’s doctors who fought tooth and nail against the privatisation of their highly lucrative profession makes for gripping drama.

The stagecraft on display is the National Theatre at its finest. Vicki Mortimer’s set sees hospital bedside curtains drawn across the stage in a variety of permutations including an ingenious suggestion of the House of Commons. Canny projections and an inspired use of laser-light to depict an underground seam of coal, only add to the evening’s theatrical magic.

The night however belongs to the pyjama-clad Michael Sheen. On stage virtually throughout and in a turn that includes a fabulous cover of Judy Garland’s Get Happy, Sheen is a tour-de-force treat in an evening of exquisite, unmissable theatre.

Runs until 11th May at the National Theatre and then at the Wales Millennium Centre from May 18th to 1st June
Photo credit: Johan Persson

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