Reviews Roundup: Michael Sheen in Nye 3.4★

Olivier Theatre, National Theatre, London

Michael Sheen in Nye. Photo: Johan Persson

Nye tells the life story of the Labour minister who drove the formation of the NHS. While most reviewers plumped for 3 or 4 stars, there was one 5 and one 2 star review. In the title role is Michael Sheen who received widespread praise. He performs the show in pyjamas as a patient dying in an NHS hospital. Nye’s delirious moments in which he remembers a fantasy version of his past reminded quite a few reviewers of The Singing Detective. Director Rufus Norris‘s swansong production as Artistic Director of the National Theatre was also warmly received, as was Vicki Mortimer’s set. A number of critics were disappointed with Tim Price‘s script.

[Links to full reviews are included but a number are behind paywalls and therefore may not be accessible]

However, not Fiona Mountford reviewing in the i (5★). She complimented ‘Tim Price’s satisfying meaty, yet never less than nimble study’.

Sarah Hemming at the Financial Times (4✭) described Nye as ‘unashamedly, a play about principle, passion and compassion, driven by a fantastic ensemble and an electrifying performance from Sheen. ‘ She continued: ‘Director Rufus Norris stages all this with wit and drive.’ For Clive Davis in The Times (4★), ‘Sheen burns with passion’ adding ‘His charisma fills the gaps in the script.’  Dominic Cavendish in the Telegraph (4★) was also taken with  Michael Sheen’s performance, saying “Sheen is in his element here…by turns down to earth and messianic, tender and full of clenched tenacity.’ Gary Naylor for Broadway World (4) had reservations- ‘flawed, sprawling and unmanageable – but when it works, it’s magnificent.’ Michael Sheen is given considerable credit: ‘carrying the play and the man with equal passion’  Mr Naylor also picked out ‘Jon Driscoll’s video work is as good as I’ve seen in a theatre, a tour de force.’ Neil Norman’s review in the Express (4★) described Nye as ‘a moving but unsentimental portrait of the man who changed British healthcare’.

Time Out‘s Andrzej Lukowski (3★) found it hard to get excited at what he called ‘a fairly conventional drama, jumbled up’ but was compensated by the fact that: ‘Sheen is a delight’  and ‘if the whole isn’t quite there, most of the individual scenes are scintillating.’ Alice Saville in The Independent (3★) had a similar thought: ‘a bit of a tired theatrical set-up, to have an ageing famous figure reliving his life in convenient vignettes,’ but she said: ‘Norris’s direction keeps things nimble and strange.’ Nick Curtis in the Evening Standard (3★) was unimpressed by the ‘lumpy and obvious script.’ ‘the narrative is too long-reaching and schematic’ complained Arifa Akbar in The Guardian (3★). Possibly alone, she had reservations about Michael Sheen’s performance: ‘He brings a curious fey playfulness and vulnerability but does not plumb the depths of his commanding character.’

While Sarah Crompton at Whats On Stage (3★) was impressed by ‘a central performance from Michael Sheen of charm and charisma, and an energetic and stylish production from Rufus Norris’. She was less happy with the script:  ‘It’s engaging, never less than interesting, but it doesn’t always find the balance between great gobbets of historical information and reaching the heart of the man and his vision.’  For Sam Marlowe in The Stage (3★) ‘It’s crammed with information but remains surface-skimming’ although she did think: ‘Michael Sheen is a terrifically engaging Bevan’ and ‘Vicki Mortimer’s set is a kaleidoscope of green hospital screens’. The Sunday Times‘ Dominic Maxwell (3★) said it felt like ‘an artfully staged Wikipedia entry,’ commenting  ‘while Nye gives its man some good lines, it goes light on big set pieces’. He didn’t feel ‘as if we’ve done more than traced the surface of an extraordinary man and his nation-changing achievement.’ Nevertheless, he concedes ‘there’s good stuff in Nye, and Sheen is tremendous’.

Susannah Clapp in The Observer (2★) called it ‘a wasted opportunity’. She said ‘the form is fractured, giddy’ and ‘interesting nuggets become mechanical explanation’. However she complimented Michael Sheen as ‘fiery’.

Average critic rating 3.4★

Value rating  38 (Value rating is the Average critic rating divided by the most common Stalls ticket price. In theory this means the higher the score the better value but, because of price variations, a West End show could be excellent value if it scores above 30 while an off-West End show may need to score above 60. This rating is based on opening night prices- theatres may raise or lower prices during the run.)

Nye can be seen at the National Theatre until May 11 (Tickets directly from the theatre here) then May 18-June 1 at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, (Tickets directly from the theatre here). National Theatre Live cinema screenings from March 23 (Details at

Read Paul Seven’s 5 star review here

If you’ve seen Nye, you are welcome to add your review and rating below (but please keep it relevant and polite)