Friday, May 17, 2024




Written by Tim Price. Directed by Rufus Norris. Set designer Vicki Mortimer.Costume designer Kinetia Isidore. Lighting designer Paul Constable. Co Choreographers Steven Hoggett and Jess Williams. Composer Will Stuart. Sound designer Donato Wharton. Projection designer Jon Driscoll. A National Theatre of Great Britain production.  Filmed for National Theatre Live and distributed by Sharmill Films. Dendy Canberra. May 16 2024. In cinemas from May 24 2024. 

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

In celebration of its one hundredth NT Live production, the National Theatre presents its extraordinary production of Nye, the story of Aneurin Bevan streamed live from the Olivier Theatre in London. The film opens appropriately in a hospital ward where founder of the National Health, Aneurin Bevan has been operated on for a duodenal ulcer. A cancer has been discovered caused by his years as a miner in Wales. At his bedside his wife Jennie Lee, played by Sharon Small and school friend Archie Lush (Roger Evans) watch over Bevan (Michael Sheen) as doctors and nurses attend to him.

Tim Price’s play takes audiences on a surreal and vividly alive journey through Bevan’s life. Director Rufus Norris injects the action with exciting displays of physical theatre and imaginative use of hospital curtains on tracks to transition between scenes and provide a backdrop. Beds are used as benches, doors and platforms in a production that moves seamlessly through incidents and events that led to Bevan’s passionate belief in social justice and opportunity for the working class. A school scene erupts in insurrection when a sadistic teacher wields the cane on the stuttering Bevan until his loyal friend Lush intervenes. It is a friendship that will last throughout life. 


Sharon Small as Jessie Lee in Nye
Dressed only in red striped pyjamas, Sheen moves as though in a dream from scene to scene. In the library Lush introduces him to the notion of free access to books as  members of the ensemble lift them into the air to reach the imaginary shelves. Although seated in a cinema watching a filmed presentation, we are instantly transported to the live experience at the National Theatre. Norris’s direction and directorial techniques are entirely theatrical. The cameras catch the moment, drawing the actors to us with a sequence of shots that heighten the production’s impact.

In every scene we see a man obsessed with a sense of social justice, a fighter for equality and human rights, a fierce advocate for his people and his constituents, a campaigner against the vested and corporate interests and a Minister for Health in the Atlee Labour government with a vision for a national health that would treat people according to their illness rather than  their ability to pay. It is a vision that brought him into conflict with the British Medical Association, wartime Tory Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and members of his own party. His struggles against the forces of conservativism and the establishment are interspersed with scenes in the hospital where Lee and Lush confront the seriousness of his condition in an atmosphere of mutual antagonism. Price’s portrait of a man who nationalized the British health system and improved the state of the working people of his nation paints a man who is intensely human.

As Nye, Michael Sheen gives a remarkable performance, capable of arousing pity for the bullied schoolboy, struggling to face his father’s illness, bewitched by the acquisition of new knowledge, charmingly playful in his wooing of Jennie and steadfast in his resolve to overcome all opposition and emerge victorious in his lifelong quest for social justice through negotiation and political acumen. Sheen’s Nye dreams of a better world for all and shows the will and determination to make it come true. Sheen, the consummate actor, creates a monumental depiction of Aneurin Bevan. He is assisted by excellent performances from Small and Evans and a versatile ensemble.

Martin Sheen as Aneuring Bevan Minister for Health
Although Nye is an account of one man’s quest to change Britain’s health system and break through the barriers of privilege and the class system, Sheen’s inspirational performance, now immortalized in film, reflects the universality of the human condition. Nye is a film for all peoples. It is a call for reform and a roadmap to a better life. It is a testament to the power of passion and the will to make a dream come true.

During the interval there is a film celebrating the achievements of all involved in bringing NT Live to dozens of countries and millions of people over the past fifteen years since the initiative was introduced. It includes interviews with directors including Norris, directors of camera and film production, clips of past productions from Phaedre to Vanya and interviews with actors including Helen Mirren on Phaedre in 2009 and Ian McKellan in King Lear. Be sure to be back in time for this glimpse of NT Live history.

Photos by Johan Persson