Review: Nye at Wales Millennium Centre

Nye at the Wales Millennium Centre is an extraordinary theatrical experience that brilliantly celebrates the life and legacy of Aneurin ‘Nye’ Bevan, the visionary behind the NHS.

From the moment the lights dim and Michael Sheen steps onto the stage, the audience is transported into the heart of Bevan’s world. Sheen’s portrayal is nothing short of mesmerising, capturing Bevan’s passion, determination, and commitment to social justice and dignity. His performance brings depth to a character whose vision fundamentally transformed the UK’s welfare state. Sheen’s ability to convey Bevan’s fiery oratory and tender moments alike creates an intimate connection with the audience, making everyone feel every triumph and struggle in Bevan’s journey.

Inclusive casting enhances the production, bringing a rich diversity to the stage that reflects the universal impact of Bevan’s work. Tony Jayawardena as Winston Churchill and Stephanie Jacob as Clement Attlee deliver standout performances, while Kezrena James and Roger Evans provide poignant and heartfelt support as Bevan’s sister Arianwen and lifelong friend Archie Lush. Sharon Small, as his devoted wife Jennie Lee, delivers a performance that is both heartfelt and compelling. Each actor brings their character to life with authenticity, contributing to the rich tapestry of Bevan’s story.

The staging of the play is nothing short of genius. Simple yet effective, the set transforms effortlessly to depict various significant locations in Bevan’s life. The ingenious use of hospital ward curtains that seamlessly shift to become Westminster’s tea room bar or the raked seating of the House of Commons is a visual treat. This creative design immerses the audience in the story, turning the stage into a dynamic canvas that enhances the narrative. The minimalistic approach allows the powerful performances and gripping script by Tim Price to shine through, focusing the audience’s attention on the emotional and historical journey.

A highlight of the production is the poignant library scene. It beautifully illustrates Bevan’s discovery of the free benefits of the local library, where he overcomes his stutter and finds his voice. This metaphor for his political journey underscores his foresight and determination to navigate and overcome obstacles in the creation of the NHS. The scene symbolises how access to knowledge and opportunity can empower individuals to achieve greatness, a core principle that underpinned Bevan’s vision for the NHS.

The play eloquently depicts how the NHS idea was born in Tredegar. Bevan’s vision to “Tredegar-ise Britain” by creating a health service based on need rather than money is powerfully portrayed, illustrating the social impact of his work. This particular Medical Aid Society in Tredegar, where working people paid into the service but anyone could benefit from its care, including expectant mothers, children, and the elderly, served as the blueprint for the national system Bevan would set up. The production captures this idea with passion, showing how Bevan’s childhood experiences and community values shaped his political visions.

The finale, marked by Nye’s death, is a deeply moving moment. The hauntingly beautiful Welsh hymn “Arglwydd Dyma Fi” reverberates through the Donald Gordon Theatre, reducing the audience to tears. The beauty of this moment encapsulates the emotional and cultural significance of Bevan’s legacy, resonating with everyone present. The hymn’s poignant lyrics and haunting melody provide a fitting tribute to Bevan’s enduring impact, leaving the audience in a state of reflection and awe.

The NHS, often hailed as one of Wales’ greatest exports, is celebrated as the envy of the world. The play reminds us of its fundamental principle: healthcare free at the point of delivery, based on need not the ability to pay. This message underscores the play’s call to action to protect and invest in the NHS, ensuring it continues to serve future generations. The emotional connection to the NHS can be felt throughout the performance, with audience members likely reflecting on their own personal experiences and the importance of a healthcare system that prioritises human dignity.

With the Wales Millennium Centre’s façade lit up in the vibrant red, green, and white of the Welsh flag, the play is not just a tribute to Bevan but a proud celebration of Welsh heritage. The production instills a sense of pride and collective responsibility to uphold Bevan’s vision. The choice to illuminate the Centre in the national colours adds a layer of cultural significance, emphasising the deep ties between Bevan’s legacy and Welsh identity.

Nye official trailer

Nye is more than a play: it’s a powerful dedication to a man who transformed Britain. This production, rich with emotion and historical significance, is a testament to the enduring legacy of Aneurin Bevan and a rallying call to cherish and protect the NHS. This play is a must-see for anyone who values the principles of dignity, compassion, and public service that Bevan championed.

Nye, co-produced by National Theatre and Wales Millennium Centre, is on at Wales Millennium Centre 18 May – 1 June 2024. Limited tickets from £19 available online here.