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  • Colin Fraser

NT LIVE: NYE


THREE STARS From his hospital bed, Bevan Nye reflects on his political career as father of Britain's National Health Service.

DRAMA FILMED THEATRE UK English #NYE

Starring Michael Sheen, Sharon Small





Welsh politician Bevan Nye was the force behind Britain’s beloved (and now beleaguered) National Health Service. An avowed socialist, he was the right man at the right time who helped reshape a nation as it recovered from World War II. His contribution: ensuring everyone had access to free and equal health care. Given his background and political views, how he achieved this in Churchill’s Tory government is one of many fascinating aspects about this truly amazing man. 


Michael Sheen (FROST/NIXON), dressed in pyjamas throughout, is front and centre in this National Theatre production of Tim Price’s play. It opens, ironically, as Nye lands in hospital. Facing mortality is the springboard for a life told in flashback: surviving the mines, earning his political stripes, meeting his wife, heading to Westminster and, under the shrewd patronage of Churchill himself, becoming the Health minister who gives the nation one of its most prized assets.


Sheen is, unsurprisingly, extraordinarily compelling. He brings a tremendous warmth and charm to the man as Nye wanders through his memory in varying degrees of surreality. He’s well supported by a sure footed cast and a production that reinvents ‘hospital’ as a positive. Green curtains have seldom been this effective.


While Price’s script hits all the right notes it does pull punches when addressing how a man from the wrong side of a heavy cultural divide - and a sleeve-wearing socialist at that - was able to convince his government that nationalising health was good for the nation. This was post-war, ration-card Britain and the NHS was going to cost a fortune. Who would stand for such an outrageous idea as free care for everyone - not just the wealthy but, gasp, poor people as well!? Our appreciation for both Nye and his remarkable achievement would be better served with a little more detail (acknowledging the rare call for a play which runs for over two and a half hours to be longer!)


This is however a minor gripe about an otherwise rewarding theatrical experience, one that’s as educational as it is entertaining. There’s even a song-and-dance number and it’s not often you get that in a drama about public health.


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