Set between the years 1930 and 1960, Nye and Jennie is a two handed play that details the public and private lives of husband and wife, Nye Bevan and Jennie Lee. Theirs was a remarkable marriage that was also a famous political partnership. Although both came from mining communities their backgrounds were different. Nye left school at fourteen to work in the mines and was largely self educated. Jennie enjoyed a happy and sheltered childhood in Fifeshire that led on to study at Edinburgh University. What united them in spirit long before they met was the General Strike of 1926, the unsuccessful attempt to force the British government to act to prevent wage reduction and worsening conditions for 1.2 million locked-out coal miners. From here, at grassroots level, they rose through the ranks of the Labour Party until they found themselves as MP’s sharing a flat in London.
The play has been written so that the contempoaray resonances are not pointed up but allowed to look after themselves. The 1930’s were characterised not just by the rise of Fascism but it’s appeasement by parliament ie the making of political or material concessions to an enemy power in order to avoid conflict. It’s probable that there’s an article about something similar in today’s paper. The 40’s saw Nye and Jennie fight the war in two very different ways; she as an envoy travelling the world on behalf of the war effort, he as the only man who would stand up and criticise Churchill for his conduct of the war. They suffered great abuse but she stood by him. And in the end this faith was justified when he was, for the most part – proved correct in his judgement.
It is for a potential audience to compare what the NHS meant at the time of its difficult inception – this is explored - with what it means now. The 50’s was dominated by the nuclear question. Nye broke with the left of the Labour Party in arguing that the bomb should be kept. He also broke faith with his followers, the Bevanites, and most painfully with his wife.
The drama comes from their unity in public that was forged in private argument and differences. What it actually means, what is the true cost, of giving yourself over to public life? He the pragmatist in search of power and influence, she the Scottish left-wing firebrand who would give an inch to no one. They showed a united front in public, but in private there were differences. Their triumphs and disappointments were those of the country at large. His death - caused, in her mind, by battling the schisms in the party – mourned by friends and enemies.
It is, above all, a love story.
Performances at The Met, Abertillery, 15 and 16 November 2017 - www.theatr-nanog.co.uk/nye-and-jennie