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Nye | Wales Millennium Centre

Michael Sheen delivers a remarkably touching performance in this slickly staged, visually stunning and immensely moving ode to democracy, the NHS and the life of Aneurin Bevan; balancing delightful humour and touching poignancy in perfect amounts, this is a work that feels monumental in its scale, ambition and success.

Few people in British politics hold a legacy quite like Aneurin Bevan: a fierce orator, passionate socialist and the architect of perhaps Britain's finest political achievement - the NHS - the man ought to be an emblem of national pride and affection. Nye, a biographical play by Tim Price documenting his life, career and personal struggles does exactly that, delivering an emotional evening of heartfelt pride, contemplative reflection, and shedding well deserved light on the often overlooked figure. Across it's 2 hour 20 minute runtime, the play thoroughly explores Bevan's life through a varied collection of scenes, the clever differences in tone, staging and intent making the runtime fly by with great ease. That being said, as the curtain falls there is a resounding feeling of accomplishment; it feels as though the audience has lived alongside Nye, and in this way succeeds tremendously as a character study, capturing the intimate and spectacular moments of his life in equal measure.

Michael Sheen embodies the role of 'Nye' to perfection, delicately depicting his insecurities, anger and conflicts with an acute accuracy, yet it is his abundant charm and natural charisma that wins the audience over. It's impossible not to love Sheen in this role, and the strong emotional resonance of the piece is only amplified by his terrific stage presence. That being said, however, it is the colourful cast of cartoonish characters that populate Nye's dreamy hallucinations that truly make the show the success that it is. While capturing the unreliable and caricatured nature of Nye's memories perfectly, the performances hold great truth in their satirical depictions of leaders: Jon Furlong as 'deputy prime minister' Herbert Morrison steals every scene with a hilarious viciousness, spitting out his lines with feverish rage, and contrastingly, Tony Jayawardena brings Winston Churchill to life with a great deal of sleazy swagger that captures the lasting legacy of the man while avoiding a tedious impression. Stephanie Jacob equally impresses as Clement Attlee, with the gender bent role lending even more subtle unreliability to Nye's drug-induced recollections - and most importantly accompanied by genius stagecraft in the form of a self driving desk!

The creativity in set design doesn't apply only to this nifty desk-cum-car though, with Vicki Mortimer's set lending an impressive visual identity to the piece. The use of hospital curtains is nothing short of inspired, creating a flowing maze that enshrouds Nye as he stumbles through his dream. The curtains also allow for the play's deftest trick, allowing for seemingly instantaneous costume and scene changes that continuous to be jaw dropping even on repeat viewing. While visually the staging may be quite simple - often using an effective empty stage to bring to life black empty voids - this is a masterclass in physical storytelling. Equally clever is the use of purely hospital equipment - beds, chairs and the occasional table - to recreate the landscape of Nye's life. In the most entertaining scene, beds complete with sleeping patients come to form a local town hall; it's this eye for clever detail that makes the play such an entertaining watch.

The same can be said for the costume design by Kinnetia Isidore whose sheer scale of work achieved here is commendable in of itself. Isidore's costumes lend character even to background ensemble members, creating visually striking images and even forming comedy in of themselves. From the farcical nature of the Welsh Coal Board member's suits to the deceptively cheery looking suit of Churchill's, the costumes tell a story of there own, working succinctly with Mortimer's set design to create a cohesively compelling visual landscape for Nye's dream. Rufus Norris's ability to bring together these elements, paired with Donato Wharton's immersively overwhelming sound design, and the harsh hospital ward lighting designed by Paule Constable, is nothing short of fantastic. Few plays this year have held an identity as strongly as Nye's hallucination-framed storytelling, and the way Norris blends character, design and senses to evoke dreaming is fantastic.

While one could fault the play's one sided, almost propaganda-ish, praise of Aneurin Bevan and the NHS, its easy to forgive when the play's message is as beautiful, sincere and moving as it is. Certain to make you laugh, think, and eventually uncontrollably sob, Nye manages to move its audience immensely while telling a story about, of all things, politics - a remarkable feat to be certain.

Nye is running at the Wales Millennium Centre until 1st June - for more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (5*)

Gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Johann Persson


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