Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

“Unashamedly a Play about Principle, Passion and Compassion, Driven by a Fantastic Ensemble”

At Wales Millennium Centre

Nye- Rich Critical Response to Tim Price Drama , National Theatre & Wales Millennium Centre , March 21, 2024
At Wales Millennium Centre by Nye- Rich Critical Response to Tim Price Drama So much of theatre of Wales is small-scale. When the Sherman did its 2022 upside-down riff on Ibsen it was stripped to five characters. There is small sight of an amply-cast classic now to be seen.

Tim Price's drama, big theatre for a big stage, has made for the most enlivened discussion in theatre's first quarter of 2024.

Director Rufus Norris has form in powering a big story that spans decades. “Small Island” is one of the hits of his era in the biggest job of them all.

The energy, surprise and staged inventiveness of “Nye” won the acclaim of reviewers.

* * * *

Clive Davis made the comparison with James Graham:

“This co-production with the Wales Millennium Centre has some of the primary colour paciness of the “Dear England”...Sometimes it's less a play, and more a pageant, albeit one that's vividly directed by the National's outgoing boss, Rufus Norris. `But where we might be content not to learn much about Southgate's inner life, Price's script rattles through so many episodes that, after the end of more than two and a half hours, you are left wondering how much you really learn about Bevan's personality and beliefs....Sheen burns with genuine passion. His charisma fills the gaps in the script.”

Source: the Times, by subscription.

* * * *

Sarah Hemming made the same comparison:

“A mighty, moving and sometimes messy theatre play, at heart it's a state-of-the-nation play. And like “Dear England” and “Standing at the Sky's Edge” before it, “Nye” seizes the venue's potential as a national public forum to frame critical questions about who we are and who we want to be

“There's a tendency to reach for stereotypes...There's also so much going that we don't get enough of an up-close study of Bevan the man...But this is, unashamedly, a play about principle, passion and compassion, driven by a fantastic ensemble and an electrifying performance from Sheen.”

Source: the Financial Times, by subscription

* * * *

Dominic Maxwell asked for more politics:

“It feels odd to say it, but this sprawling bio-play about Aneurin Bevan, the man who forced through the creation of the NHS, could do with a bit more politics...Yet throughout almost three hours of stage time, it keeps feeling as if is teeing us up for great events rather than fully dramatising them. It doesn't want to be a James Graham-style drama all about the formation of the NHS. Yet it throws so much at us that it can't help but feel like an artfully staged Wikipedia entry.

“Indeed, with so much to get through, so much of what Nye does is described more than reported.”

Source: the Sunday Times, by subscription

* * * *

Susanna Clapp was alone in disfavour. On Radio Wales Arts Show:

“It wasn't my show for two reasons. The exposition was over-didactic. It had a very skittish way of presenting material, almost apologetically playful. When Clement Attlee was trying to persuade him to enter the Cabinet Bevan was reluctant to take it on. Something extraordinary happened to the furniture. Not only distracting but the reverse of distracting, it made one feel it made up this slightly finger-wagging didactic, exposition part of the play."

She was also on Radio 4's Front Row with Boyd Hilton who said:

“I was slightly dreading it. I was amazed. Imaginative, playful, funny. I was amazed how entertaining it was. I was absolutely gripped.”

Susanna Clapp: “It didn't work for me, the ludic, the insistence on it being frolicsome, the script was too explanatory, the more explanatory it got the more frolicsome the production became, exposed the heaviness of it of some of it. It is not a good play. It seemed effortful to me.”

* * * *

She repeated her view in the Observer:

“Nye” is a fevered dream....The form is fractured, giddy: Vicki Mortimer’s design does a good job of hallucinatory blending, effortlessly swishing the institutional green of hospital curtains into the ranks of the House of Commons. Yet the dialogue is dogged, grab-you-by-the-collar instructional. Interesting nuggets become mechanical explanation: his father’s suffering left Bevan with a legacy of wanting to take care of everyone; horrible bullying by a schoolteacher awakened his sense of injustice.

“...infected with a dreadful larkiness, which goes beyond conveying the weirdness of fever. At any particularly didactic moment, the furniture starts moving. Hospital beds are continually being tipped up so that their inhabitants are perkily vertical...Doctors who resisted the idea of the NHS, Tory politicians with long faces and overextended vowels are pop-up villains.”

“...performance is fiery but not indulgent, putting across (even in bulky, rose-tinted pyjamas) the power of the man, the motor of his conviction, and – in wooing his future wife, Jennie Lee – his purring, self-mocking humour.”

* * * *

The Independent:

“Tim Price and outgoing National Theatre artistic director Rufus Norris have turned this welfare state origin story into a weird, sometimes baggy reverie, enlivened with poignant biographical insights. At first, Sheen is touchingly delighted to be treated by the public health system he helped dream into existence, a vision as beautiful as the sunny-hued daffodils on each bedside table. But the mood soon darkens as he’s lost in post-operative hallucinations: the sadistic schoolteacher who beat him for his stammer, the black lung-afflicted miner father who – ironically – he couldn’t or wouldn’t help.

“It’s a bit of a tired theatrical set-up, to have an ageing famous figure reliving his life in convenient vignettes. But although the text periodically sags, Norris’s direction keeps things nimble and strange. Nye’s first trip to the library is a thing of wonder, with Beauty and the Beast-style living bookshelves beckoning him into a world of learning. The town council meeting where he makes his first, revolutionary France-inspired political manoeuvres unfolds on tables made of hospital beds, patients still in them.

“Accordingly, Sheen plays Nye with a touchingly boy-like sense of gentleness and wonder: but sometimes this performance is at odds with what we’re told about this obstreperous, stubborn, womanising political operator.”


Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

back to the list of reviews

This review has been read 218 times

There are 19 other reviews of productions with this title in our database:


Privacy Policy | Contact Us | © keith morris / red snapper web designs /