sat 14/12/2019

A Guide For The Homesick, Trafalgar Studios review - warmly funny and deeply moving | reviews, news & interviews

A Guide For The Homesick, Trafalgar Studios review - warmly funny and deeply moving

A Guide For The Homesick, Trafalgar Studios review - warmly funny and deeply moving

Ken Urban's play is a psychological thriller crossed with a love story

Clifford Samuel (Teddy) and Douglas Booth (Jeremy) navigate the awkward seduction scene with skillHelen Maybanks

This blisteringly intense evening at Trafalgar Studios begins with two strangers in an Amsterdam hotel bedroom and – through a series of personal revelations – ends up spanning continents. With just 80 minutes and two actors, Ken Urban’s simultaneously warmly funny and deeply moving play manages to achieve an impact that some dramas fail to in three hours with ten times the cast.

Designer Jason Denvir has recreated one of those low-budget hotel rooms that seems decorated to emphasise alienation and depression – as Clifford Samuel’s Teddy jokingly remarks, it’s the "same shade of ugly". Though the two men are clearly strangers when they walk in, there’s a sense of sexual tension in their jokey, slightly staccato exchange, and once the speed-beer-drinking session begins the outcome seems inevitable.

Yet what’s brilliant about the play is how seamlessly Urban manages to make the transition from awkward flirtation to major state-of-the-globe discussion. The moment Douglas Booth’s Jeremy (pictured below) flares up when Teddy calls him the "Kid", we become aware of a whole faultline of secrets waiting to erupt, and one by one, they all come to the surface.  

By this point we have discovered that Jeremy is a Harvard medical graduate who has been working as a nurse in Uganda, and has stopped off in Amsterdam on his way home. Though financier Teddy clearly has his own secrets to hide – as his constant refusal to answer his mobile phone when it rings implies – at least he knows he is gay, while Jeremy, it seems, is more uncertain. 

Booth was acclaimed for his portrayal of Boy George in BBC biopic Worried About the Boy, while Samuel was nominated for MTA Best Actor after his one-man-show Obama the Mamba – and the accomplishment of both is clear from the word go. Both navigate with skill the never-more-tricky terrain of a seduction in which one person is overtly saying he isn’t interested. There’s clearly no abuse of power here, and by the end of the evening it’s transparent that words will expose the vulnerabilities of each more than any act of undressing.Playwright Ken Urban wrote this play partly because of a series of interviews he did with men and women who had worked for Médécins Sans Frontieres. In the programme he declares, "During the interview I saw how these men and women were haunted by what they experienced. They all spoke about the difficulty of coming home and re-adjusting".

Jeremy’s time in Uganda working in a clinic has brought him into contact with a man called Nicholas who is gay and comes to the clinic to be tested after he has had sex with a married man. In Jonathan O’Boyle’s beautifully nuanced production, words do most of the work to create the shift in setting, as Samuel’s Teddy suddenly becomes Nicholas, and we realise we’re watching the two acting out the story of Jeremy’s traumatic time in Africa.

Against his profoundly personal account, which tackles guilt and responsibility while reflecting the rise of homophobia in Uganda, Teddy’s own memories deal with his intense friendship with a man who is about to get married who has suddenly disappeared. Again the actors make the subtle shift – in this instance with Booth becoming the troubled Eddy, spiralling into a vortex of doubt about what kind of husband he will be to his fiancée.

The more the play progresses, the more you realise this is a masterclass in dramatic construction – there is an almost geometric precision to the way Jeremy and Teddy’s accounts mirror and amplify the story of each other. Yet, not least due to the skill of the actors, there’s not a false moment struck here – it’s like a gripping psychological thriller crossed with a love story, and we are in suspense right till the end.

Not for the first time this is a reminder of why it’s so great to have an intimate venue like the Trafalgar Studios in London’s West End. This deserves a larger venue, but you can’t help feeling it will lose something if it transfers to a less intense and claustrophobic setting.

By the end of the evening you feel you have lived several lifetimes. An extraordinary achievement all round.


Urban makes a seamless transition from awkward flirtation to state-of-the-globe discussion


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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