Wet Feet

Michael Neri
Alistair Lindsay for Unusual Theatre
Union Theatre

Listing details and ticket info...

Matthew Edgar Credit: Matthew Coulton
Michael Neri & Matthew Edgar Credit: Matthew Coulton
Michael Neri & Matthew Edgar Credit: Matthew Coulton

Like the once plethora of gay bars, nightclubs and alluring cruising grounds, the 'gay sauna' has dwindled to a shadow of its former self, with little more than half a dozen still operating in London and far fewer than that in other towns and cities across the UK.

The reason is undoubtably due to the free and easy way a gay man can now organise a sexual dalliance from his phone as easily as ordering a takeaway. With the rampant growth of 'dating' apps, there is a lot of choice out there for those wanting to sow their seed without having to leave the house.

Written and starring Michael Neri, Wet Feet is set among the steamy corridors and cruising corners of a gay sauna somewhere outside London. This may prove to be as much of the play’s downfall as its success. The concept of two men talking to one another in a UK sauna is almost too unrealistic to comprehend, with the vast majority preferring to sneak in underneath an oversized hood, snood, cap or brolly in order to protect themselves from being spotted. The reality is that stigma still exists.

Franco (Michael Neri) and Nathan (Matthew Edgar) initially have little in common, but after some awkward chit-chat and flirting, it's clear there is an attraction neither can deny. Set over a series of visits, their 'relationship' progresses at pace in a very sweet, innocent way that makes this sauna-based play a cut above some of the others also set in a sauna.

Neri resisted taking the easy route of turning Nathan and Franco into two stereotypically drugged-f**ked, one-dimensional sex addicts. Instead, there's a serious attempt to explore themes of identity, love and acceptance, whilst never forgetting this is a comedy. Neri achieves this for the most part, but as the conversation flows, there’s a sense both are saying nothing the audience won’t have heard before. Their back-stories feel predictable, and unfortunately, this part of the show is terribly stereotypical. But despite this, Neri has created two loveable characters who are more developed than you might expect in a play that's barely an hour long.

Life experiences, confidence and age all contribute to making Nathan and Franco different, relatable and plausible. But the age gap falls short of being thought-through properly, which means there are big discrepancies in the timeline. It also allows for some of best comedic moments, particularly around the notion that there is a gay man on the planet who has never heard of The Golden Girls, which probably bagged the biggest laugh of the night.

In Edgar’s performance as Nathan, the cheeky, confident twink is spot on, especially as we see him flip between being big-headed to vulnerable as the visits from Franco progress.

Wet Feet marks Neri’s writing debut, and as such he should be very proud. It’s a play with characters that have more to give. It’s clear Neri understands what he was writing, but I wanted him to squeeze more out of both boys. Perhaps he will in the future.

For now, though, Wet Feet is a funny two-hander that may trigger some and remind others that there are still people out there of all ages nervous about making that first step towards acceptance. It’s also a reminder that there are people with experience only too happy to help and offer a shoulder (and more) to cry on. For that, this feel-good flurry into the largely unknown world of our few remaining gay saunas is a hit.

Reviewer: Thomas Magill

*Some links, including Amazon, Stageplays.com, Bookshop.org, ATG Tickets, LOVEtheatre, BTG Tickets, Ticketmaster, LW Theatres and QuayTickets, are affiliate links for which BTG may earn a small fee at no extra cost to the purchaser.

Are you sure?