An Actor Convalescing In Devon | Hampstead Theatre | Review

Be vulnerable. Let an audience in… God knows what they’ll find out about you. And you about yourself.

Paul Jesson in An Actor Convalescing in Devon., Credit The Other Richard.
Paul Jesson in An Actor Convalescing in Devon., Credit The Other Richard.

This is exactly what happens in this seventy-minute soliloquy in seven scenes by Richard Nelson. Firstly, it is beautifully and subtly written: full of understatement. Secondly, it is quietly amusing, yet draws us in so that the seventy minutes fly by. Thirdly, it makes us think of our own vulnerability and humanity.

Nelson’s new play concerns an actor who is heading to the West Country by train, using the slower yet more scenic and romantic route from Waterloo via Salisbury, Yeovil, and Templecombe, even if the playwright admits to have never visited Devon! This actor is travelling to spend a weekend with an old friend. He recalls staying there one summer with his late partner, Michael, another actor. Glad to be alive but uncertain of his future, he shares stories and his thoughts about Shakespeare, Kurt Weill, friends, his career and the trials of his own health, always talking directly not just to the audience but to YOU in particular, as if you were the only other person in the theatre. The piece certainly provides much food for thought afterwards, especially perhaps for those of us who are roughly the same age as the actor and writer!

The actor in this case is Paul Jesson, weaving his magic so that we are drawn into his musings on life. The subtitle of the play is ‘Conversations on a Journey’ and we very quickly believe that we are joining Jesson on his visit to friends in Devon, so adroit is he in seemingly involving us in his ‘conversations’. He is one of those actors who is totally natural, never seeming to work at being in role; his style of acting appears effortless so that we believe in him and what he says. He has a natural authority, but is just so relaxed we quickly believe we have known him for years and he is a close friend – if he were NOT a close friend he would not reveal all that he does! The seventy minutes quickly fly by: yet really nothing happens, except we feel that we not only know him but also ourselves much better than when we entered the auditorium!

Both Jesson and Nelson are aided by Clarissa Brown’s imaginative light touch direction; she ensures that the piece is given light and shade as well as a variety of pace, plus Rob Howell’s simple set design (two chairs and a red drape) and imaginative but yet again simple, never obtrusive, lighting by Rick Fisher Likewise Mike Walker’s sound design which, set at a low volume level, just confirms changes of setting in our minds, but never tries to tell us what to think.

This is a lovely, warm-hearted moving play that deserves every success. Highly recommended!

4 stars

Review by John Groves

An actor boards a train from Waterloo, opting for the meandering, romantic route to the West Country for a weekend with an old friend. As the Devonshire countryside slips past the carriage window, his mind’s eye is filled with memories of a happy summer spent there with his late partner and fellow actor, Michael. As the train rolls towards his destination, our narrator takes us on our own journey – through his stories and thoughts about Shakespeare, friends, his career and the trials of his own health…


5 APR – 11 MAY 2024

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