South Wales based Theatr na nÓg open their new play ‘Nye & Jennie’ by playwright Meredydd Baker, about Aneurin Bevan and Jennie Lee at The Metropole in Abertillery on November 15.
This co-production with Aneurin Leisure coincides with the 120th anniversary of Bevan’s birth, and shows another side to the public image of the Tredegar MP and his wife Lee.
As the founder of the NHS, Aneurin Bevan is well known but less has been documented in the media about his wife Jennie Lee. Lee became the youngest woman at the time to be elected to Parliament. As the first Arts Minister she left a legacy of her own including the foundation of the Open University in 1969 which will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary in 2019.
Meredydd Barker’s play introduces us to the power couple of their day, their relationship, the preparation for the biggest moments in their careers and the people behind the public images. The play spans their life together from flatmates, their marriage in 1934, to Nye’s death in 1960, marking notable events in their public and private life along the way.
Actress Louise Collins is to bring the role of Jennie to life on stage opposite Gareth John Bale as Nye Bevan. Andy Howells recently put questions to the actress about the play.
What drew you to the play Nye and Jennie in the first place?
I made a vow to do plays that matter; ones that tell a story and make a difference. I recently joined the Labour Party when I auditioned for this play. I was interested in learning more about socialism and the birth of the NHS. I have to confess that sadly I had no idea who Aneurin Bevan’s wife was. When I got the the job I realised how telling her story that mattered.
Can you tell us a little about who you will be playing in Nye and Jennie?
Jennie Lee born form a mining village community in Fife. The youngest MP in a time when women of her age could not even vote in an election. Instigator of the open university and the first ever Minister of the Arts. She would not answer as Mrs Bevan, she was an MP first and a woman second.
How much research have you had to do for the role and how important is it as an actor to get a portrayal of the part that an audience can identify with?
Research preparation is essential. To read as much as I can. She wrote ‘Tomorrow is Another Day’ and ‘My Life with Nye’. In those books her fire and determination shout out. It’s about trying to capture that and be a mouthpiece for her restless spirit. I went to her home town in Cowdenbeath in Scotland and walked the Edinburgh streets where she did her law and arts degree. I wanted to immerse myself with her roots.
Are there any aspects of the play that have challenged you as an actor?
We haven’t begun rehearsals yet, so I have no answers but before we begin my current challenge is how do we portray these people as truthfully as we can, we go through time, from 1929 up to 1970. How do we make these epic political figures human so that an audience can connect?
How relevant do you think Nye and Jennie’s story is to audiences today?
I have just read from her autobiography and I quote “she demanded the party to stop bickering and, as Nye would have wanted, unite around its most precious beliefs”. The play is heartbreakingly relevant. Studying for this play makes me sad to say society has not moved forward.
What can audiences expect from the play?
Meredydd Barker writes so passionately about these two epic figures. Before we’ve even begun rehearsals, I have a great instinct that this play is to inspire and to give hope in these fearful times.
Nye & Jennie plays The Metropole, Abertillery from Wednesday November 15 until Saturday November 18. Wednesday – Saturday 7.30pm, Thursday & Friday 1pm, Saturday 2pm
Tickets £10 (Early Birds and Concessions) £12 Adults
£15 ‘Meet the Cast’ Experience on Saturday 18 November 2pm
For tickets visit http://www.nyeandjennie.com or call 01495 355945
All rehearsal photographs are taken by Simon Gough