It's not acting, it's empathy


“One gets wonderful lighting in hospitals.”

The actor 

PAUL JESSON (Photo: The Other Richard)

This play was written for Paul Jesson by Richard Nelson, an American playwright.  The actor in it is not Paul Jesson despite it containing many references to Jesson’s battle against cancer and anecdotes from his life.  What worse cancer is there for an actor than cancer of the jaw where his upper right jaw and part of his palate have been removed surgically?

His face and voice have been altered, both essential elements of his craft.  Looking at the theatre’s publicity photo, I did not recognise him as the actor I had seen so many times and thought it was a mistake, someone else.  Reviewing for decades, I remember Paul Jesson in many RSC plays, his Leontes in The Winter’s Tale, at the Donmar as Gloucester for Jacobi and Grandage’s King Lear and at the Royal Court as father (F) to Andrew Scott’s M in Mike Bartlett’s Cock

In view of Paul Jesson’s courage in acting in this one man play, it is no wonder that on a press night clashing with McKellen’s Player Kings, many well known actors wanted to see An Actor Convalescing in Devon and it was my choice.  The play takes place on a train from Waterloo to Devon with Jesson voicing the inner thoughts and memories of a recently bereaved actor who has lost his friend Michael.  They were both treated at Barts and supported each other through illness.

Paul Jesson (Photo: The Other Richard)

The play is deeply affecting in its honesty and fondness for the good times, the anecdotes that make you smile and cry.  Paul Jesson has retained his ability to make us believe every word he says and you will feel compassion for this brave man in revealing his vulnerability to take to the stage again after such physical trauma. 

Directing this play is Clarissa Brown who is a friend and colleague of both Paul Jesson and Richard Nelson; she adds to the truth shown here and she knows Devon well.  Travelling on the slower train, the actor has time to reminisce about the places he passes through and the people associated with them.  The journey to the village of Farway is a celebration of quintessential Englishness and countryside.  The embarrassing funeral is described where Edward Thomas’s poem “Adlestrop”, based on a railway journey the poet took, was badly read out to a wincing congregation.  

There are many theatrical stories, one about Olivier playing Othello at the Old Vic with insight into the actor’s art.  An Actor Convalescing in Devon is a good companion piece to the Sarah Siddons play in Hampstead’s Main House The Divine Mrs S as the actor here reflects on thespian creativity and the importance of the role of an audience.  This intelligent play is very well written and helps you appreciate the quality of life through this tenacious and courageous actor’s compelling and involving narrative.

Highly recommended! 

PAUL JESSON (Photo: The Other Richard)

Production Notes

An Actor Convalescing in Devon

Written by Richard Nelson

Directed by Clarissa Brown



Pail Jesson


Director:  Clarissa Brown

Designer: Rob Howell

Lighting Designer: Rick Fisher

Sound Designer:  Mike Walker



Running Time: One hour and 10 minutes without an interval

Booking to 11th May 2024


Hampstead Theatre 

Eton Avenue

Swiss Cottage

London NW3 3EU

Phone: 020 7722 9301


Tube: Swiss Cottage


by Lizzie Loveridge at

Hampstead Theatre Downstairs

on 11th April 2024