A GUIDE FOR THE HOMESICK
Trafalgar Studios, London, Thursday 1st November, 2018
Ken Urban’s two-hander is set in an Amsterdam hotel a couple of years pre-Trump (happy days!) and tells the story of Teddy (a very strong Clifford Samuel) who invites a young man he has met in the bar up to his room so they can continue drinking after closing time. It appears that Teddy has misread signals somewhere along the line and the nerdish, slightly effeminate Jeremy (the excellent Douglas Booth) isn’t gay after all… Or is he? Jeremy can hardly bring himself to say the word.
As the two men talk and drink, their stories emerge. It’s true, sometimes, that it’s easier to tell things to a stranger than to one’s closest acquaintances. Teddy is in Amsterdam with a friend, prior to the friend’s wedding back home in New York, but there is some mystery about the friend’s absence… Jeremy is newly returned from relief work in Kampala – and there is some mystery about his departure from the clinic…
The men winkle, sometimes bully, the truth from each other, piece by piece. After a lengthy establishing scene, Urban flicks the action between the hotel room now, the hospital in Uganda, and the hotel room when Teddy’s friend was present, with Samuel playing gay Ugandan Nicholas who befriends Jeremy, and Booth becoming Teddy’s unstable chum – who is obsessed with a story of a lonely whale whose song is of a frequency no other whales can hear… The story is a symbol for these two strangers, obviously, and is repeated perhaps one too many times. We get it.
The quick changes between locations are achieved via Nic Farman’s lighting; the application of a colour wash transports us to sultry Africa at the touch of a button. Also, Samuel’s African accent both convinces and helps us distinguish the whos, wheres, and whens.
The writing is sharp and funny; the playing of both actors is intense yet nuanced. Director Jonathan O’Boyle keeps them moving around the intimate space, like caged animals, almost to the extent that I wish they’d keep still and just talk for pity’s sake.
The action covers, via Nicholas, the sickening rise of homophobic murders in Uganda, and how, even now, someone from a privileged background in the States can find it impossible to come out and be at peace with his sexuality. Clifford’s Teddy is the more forceful presence, while Booth’s Jeremy is more subtly conflicted. Sparks fly when tempers – and other things – are roused, and issues are thrashed out on a personal level. With the way the world is going perhaps all we can do is cling to each other.
A thoroughly gripping, amusing yet provocative eighty minutes I strongly advise you to experience.