Wet Feet at the Union Theatre | Review

It’s a nice enough story, and it’s good to know that there are people out there who genuinely look out for one another. Nathan (Matthew Edgar) has a private room in a sauna. He goes outside to smoke a cigarette, and on his return, Franko (Michael Neri) has taken up residence. They are, at least at face value, markedly different – Nathan is self-confident while the older Franko is still wrestling with his personal identity, largely because of his upbringing in the Jehovah’s Witnesses. But this, like a lot of topics that are brought up in what is ultimately a somewhat contrived set of conversations over a period of months, isn’t treated with the depth that it could have been.

Wet Feet by Michael Neri at The Union Theatre, 18th June  2024.
Wet Feet by Michael Neri at The Union Theatre, 18th June 2024.

I’ve seen a couple of other plays that deal almost solely with the fallout of a central character’s ‘disfellowshipping’ from the Witnesses, which involves (amongst other things) being ‘shunned’ by the remaining Witnesses, even if they live in the same household. They can’t engage with the disfellowshipped person in any way through any form of communication – although as it isn’t practical to keep tabs on secret meetings or private WhatsApp messages, they often do. Here, when Nathan suggests shunning isn’t an actual practice, Franko misses the opportunity to explain that it is a real thing, and the conversation moves swiftly on.

It’s not quite a box-ticking exercise, but it does feel as though a lot of narrative is shoe-horned into a single-act play. When Franko was at school, Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 (prohibiting the ‘promotion of homosexuality’, which in practice meant schools mostly didn’t talk about it at all) was in force and wasn’t repealed until 2003. It’s the kind of detail that serves as a reminder that homophobic legislation was in force well within living memory. The dialogue also manages to cover difficult family relationships, experienced by both characters in different ways, and what it means to come out (as various LGBT+ people have told me over the years, one doesn’t come out once, but over and over again).

There’s a generous amount of humour, which is quite remarkable given that a lot that goes on isn’t, fundamentally, very funny, such as Franko’s obsessive-compulsive disorder. The pair find some commonalities, such as a shared love of certain chart music icons. People generally don’t, in my humble opinion, go to a gay sauna merely to engage in deep and meaningful conversations – the play addresses this point in a rather subtle manner. (The marketing for the show claims there is no actual nudity, and there isn’t, thanks to a strategically timed blackout.)

The play’s conclusion was as predictable as night follows day, even if its hopefulness was needed in a world that has so much despair. Perhaps tackling fewer subject matters but in greater depth would have helped in terms of connecting with the play. The actors do their best with what they’re given and demonstrate considerable commitment to their roles, but I didn’t leave the theatre feeling like I ought to patronise a sauna any time soon in the hopes of being able to find friendship and possibly even more for myself.

3 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Cast: Michael Neri – Franko Matthew Edgar – Nathan Creative Team: Writer – Michael Neri Director – Dominic Rouse Designer – Reuben Speed

Lighting Design – Massimo Neri Produced by Alistair Lindsay for Unusual Theatre Company

In the confines of a gay sauna, Nathan, an out and proud young gay man, and Franko, trapped in the shadows of the oppressive legacy of Section 28, find themselves in an awkward encounter. As the steam rises on their escapades, an hilarious and heart-warming connection deepens… Wet Feet is a poignant comedy about two lives that collide in the most unlikely of places, sparking a journey towards liberation and authentic connection.

Union Theatre
18 to 29 June 2024
70 minutes, no interval