In 1929, Jennie Lee (having just been elected to the House of Commons as a candidate for the Independent Labour Party for North Lanark) became the youngest MP in the country. In the same year, Nye Bevan was elected as the Labour MP for Ebbw Vale – a politician who would go on to oversee the creation of the NHS and act as deputy party leader. Nye & Jennie tracks the often-unheard story of this formidable couple’s story – throughout the course of both their marriage and their political journeys – careers which span the Second World War and the foundation of the Open University, to name but a couple of notable periods.
Unfortunately, despite the grace of such a powerful subject behind it, the production was ultimately let down by one-dimensional writing that was ill-aided by somewhat obvious creative choices. Meredydd Barker’s script utilizes an overarching emphasis on metaphor and superlative discourse, which seemed rather incongruous against the setting of Nye and Jennie’s private residence. Excessive over-indulgence in linguistic and literary techniques produced a monotonous and stagnant rhythm to the detriment of the overall narrative, which perhaps could have been substituted for the intimate and variant nuances of naturalistic communication. Accelerated progressions in time throughout the play were indicated by awkward periods of era-appropriate music and dance – in which the lacking chemistry between actors Gareth John Bale and Louise Collins (Nye and Jennie, respectively) became ever more apparent.
In addition, Hristo Takov’s lighting design aimed to reflect the emotional peaks and troughs throughout; suddenly becoming warmer in moments of romance and fading to black in times of hardship. Its lack of subtlety felt out of place amongst the backdrop of wider literary extravagance and sumptuousness elsewhere. However, a saving grace was offered in the final scene – in which the brickwork upstage was illuminated from behind to reveal a series of small incisions in the fabric, causing a myriad of stars to shine through onto the embracing pair - a production full of potential that regrettably fails to propel itself away from the pitfalls of theatrical cliché.