Unsure of what side of the story it wants to tell, ‘Nye and Jennie’ by Theatr na nÓg opts for an awkward middle-ground that tiptoes around issues of political revolution and regeneration, giving only a passing glance to the creation of fundamental successes by a radical people’s government, and is instead mainly stuffed with a wooden romance and lacklustre characters.
Supposedly detailing the lives of Anuerin Bevan and Jennifer Lee and their part in creating the NHS and the Open University, the hour-long play all too briefly bypasses the political intrigue and hard work involved in campaigning for a respectful Labour government and puts the focus on their marriage. Literally born of convenience, the relationship is given very little chance to realistically or endearingly blossom before descending into tragedy and tawdry domesticity.
The character of Jennie Lee (Louise Collins) frames the narrative, which is told through flashback. She confronts the audience with initial confidence and charisma as she details her trials and tribulations with being a woman in government. Passionate and determined to prove her worth as a woman, her fiery radical drive is suddenly replaced with pining and despairing over her husband for whom she gives up her career. We learn very little about her achievements as she becomes a secretary for her partner, and while this does not invalidate her strength, nor independence as a woman, seeing her suddenly designated the role of ‘the wife’ feels unfair and jarring.
Nye (Gareth John Bale) is grandiose and shouty, and his presence, as well as the show’s overwhelming focus on his life, makes the show feel less like ‘Nye & Jennie’ and more ‘Nye feat. Jennie’. It is a shame, as the description of the show entices the idea that the show will provide an intimate insight into historical events, especially topical ones, however falters and becomes imbalanced and vague.
The script is rushed, leaping gaps with little indication or reflection, with events such as World War II happening without much more than a fleeting comment. The lighting design of the show, however, is touching and effective, but fails to provide enough atmosphere to help the lack of tension or sense of place.
Despite being a production that constantly critiques and discusses the state of the Labour party, and the responsibilities involved in creating and maintaining a radical, left-wing government that genuinely cares for its people, the show seems to be lacking heart and direction. Nye’s constant quoting and speeches fail to rouse a rebellious mood, and the show ultimately awkwardly passes by without any deeper comment on the state of the nation, the role of women in politics, or the difficulties of integrating political values with domestic life. Jennie begs for her husband to take care of her, to forget politics for a while and show her some feeling, and like Jennie I am asking the show to do the same.
PHOTOS: Meredydd Baker
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