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Passionate Stage Production of Nye Bevan’s Vision for an NHS

Updated: Apr 9

There’s a delicious irony in going to see the great Michael Sheen in a play about the NHS – only for him to be absent and indisposed with a virus.

On the huge plus side (but please get better soon, Michael) it gave Living with Disability the chance to experience ‘Nye’ in a different way, with a different cast, in front of an audience comprising, we suspect, a huge NHS contingent, given the resonant laughter and sighs at various points during the evening.

‘Nye’, from dramatist Tim Price, was ten years in the writing and presents selected highlights from the life of socialist activist and Labour MP Aneurin Bevan, best known as founding father of the National Health Service in 1948.

He’s dying of stomach cancer in a ward he helped create, hallucinating through his past, negotiating each scene in the same pyjamas, but, thanks to understudy Lee Mengo’s masterful performance, changing in temperament, drive and apparent physical stature throughout.

Lockdown seems to have imbued set and lighting designers of many recent productions with another level of inspiration and creativity. ‘Nye’s set is outstanding and makes the very most of the stage at the National Theatre’s Olivier, using projection, deceptively simple curtaining, lasers and lighting to maximum effect.

You’re at a coal seam, in the Houses of Parliament, under the cutting gaze of a hundred doctors or in a library at a moment’s notice.

It’s important to note that ‘Nye’ is essentially about one man and his vision. Nye’s wife, Jennie, is minimised (despite being one of the people who fought to set up the National Theatre and the Open University). Winston Churchill (in a fantastic performance from Tony Jayawardena, also appearing at Nye’s doctor) is cited for voting against the formation of the NHS 21 times.

There’s also mention of BMA doctors threatening to strike if forced to work for the new institution. (Cue much audience laughter.)

‘Nye’ is the story of one man’s astonishing achievement, rising from mine worker at 13 to deliver our NHS. At 2hrs 40 minutes with a 20 minute interval, it leaves you wanting to discuss what you’ve seen and to find out more.

The National Theatre on London’s South Bank is easily accessible via a number transport links with disabled spaces available in the NT’s own car park close to the lifts straight into the building.

We saw people using the Smart Caption glasses, which provide close captioning for all performances, helped by the NT’s own staff who (very) slightly delayed the start of the second half to make completely sure the tech was working properly.

‘Nye’ runs at the National Theatre in London until May 11, including a BSL Interpreted Performance on April 19 (7.30pm), Captioned Performance on April 26 (7.30pm) and an Audio Described Performance on May 3 (7.30pm).

After its run at the National, ‘Nye’ is off to Wales from May 18 to June 1 – a homecoming that will surely raise the roof at every performance.





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