Photo: Johan Persson

The story of Nye Bevan is perhaps not all that well known – many will have heard of him as the ‘father of the NHS’, the Labour health minister who introduced the bill legislating for universal health care, free at the point of use. For those who don’t know anything else about the man, Nye fills in many of the blanks – recounted as a series of memories from his death bed (he had attended one of his own hospitals to have a stomach ulcer removed, but doctors discovered advanced cancer while operating on him), we find out a whole lot about the life and times of Nye Bevan and the people who were close to him.

We are given snapshots into his school days, his time working in the mines, early forays into local politics, his initial speeches in parliament, opposing the government during the war and his career as a cabinet minister, including fraught negotiations with the doctors and their union. Michael Sheen is excellent in the role – fiery when required, he is otherwise affable and unassuming, and even quite playful and humorous when initially wooing his future wife, the MP Jennie Lee (Sharon Small). This is a play full of excellent acting – amongst the sizeable cast we also particularly enjoyed Tony Jayawardena’s over-the-top Winston Churchill.

It’s all quite surreal – essentially it’s framed as a dream sequence (with occasional ‘present day’ interjections with Nye in hospital, being treated) – and things do get pretty trippy, as he’s on some fairly potent painkillers. We don’t want to spoil anything, but we like when a show catches us by surprise, and Nye certainly did that on a few occasions. It’s also a genuinely funny play – there are some brilliant punchlines, and a surprising amount of physical comedy, which works very well.

Does it get everything right? Almost – Nye Bevan’s story is not only very interesting but it’s also an important one in shaping society in the UK as we know it today, so it’s certainly worth shining a spotlight on. The acting is great and the staging is effective. If we’re being picky, we didn’t feel the pacing was quite right – at 2hrs 45mins it feels a little bloated, as if it’s trying to cram too much in. Additionally we felt the beginning was a little slow and the ending a little rushed. These are minor issues, however – overall this is a great story, well told, and a thoroughly entertaining night at the theatre.

GAY TIMES gives Nye – 4/5

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