Wet Feet at The Union Theatre

Happy Pride Month, gentle readers. For the heteronormative amongst you, a sauna is probably something you recognise at your local Bannatyne’s or David Lloyd, a sanctuary to unwind after a strenuous workout, or perhaps in a spa, revitalising your skin with ylang-ylang and a cucumber eye mask. For me and gay history (herstory), it has been a sanctum for men who love men for over seven decades. An oasis in a world that didn’t understand them in the 60s, now a realm of recreation and acceptance. Imagine Grindr but in person. I’m sure you catch my drift by now. Would it be a place I would expect two men to forge a profound and meaningful connection? Hardly!

Nathan (Matthew Edgar) is an out and proud young man who has come of age in the decades following the oppressive Section 28, under whose shadow Franko (Michael Neri) spent much of his life. The two men epitomise the dichotomy of pre- and post-cultural change and embody their roles with remarkable authenticity.

Edgar’s Nathan exudes confidence and heartfelt authenticity, representing the younger homosexual with a raw edge, using sex as bravado to mask the emotional scars from past relationships. The portrayal is intensely real and touching as the bond between the two men deepens – Nathan becomes a kind and understanding guide juxtaposed with Franko’s reserved, sheltered Jehovah’s Witness existence.

In contrast, Neri’s Franko offers a nuanced and poignant portrayal of a neurodivergent millennial weighed down by societal pressures and expectations. What I found compelling was Neri’s compassionate portrayal of a neurodivergent person; the humour didn’t mock the character’s OCD but highlighted the character’s self-frustration as he meticulously wipes down the only surface in the sauna’s private room, a bed. The chemistry between the characters is palpable, transforming from lust to friendship and evolving into something much deeper. Neri’s decision to set this narrative in a sauna, typically a space for fleeting encounters, is both bold and fitting. The juxtaposition of necessity and romance is strikingly effective.

As audience members, we are confined to one set: the private room where Nathan has found solace since his break-up. His ease is evident and starkly contrasts with Franko’s discomfort. In a place primarily used for carnal pursuits, these two men discover an unexpected connection. Yet, beneath the surface, these fragile souls return week after week seeking conversation, companionship, and solace because, ultimately, they are lonely. This is the true tragedy woven into the punchy comedy and genuine connection.

The narrative of Wet Feet is poignant, laced with intelligent humour. Neri has crafted a piece rich in compassion and truth. A particularly moving scene involves Franko discussing Section 28, especially its impact on the school system: Section 28 was a law that forbade schools from educating about queerness. This is where the play’s poignancy resonates, transcending it from just another narrative to a powerful voice among the thousands still shouting for equality in 2024.

Wet Feet is an exceptional two-hander, and it is evident that director Dominic Rouse aimed to elevate Neri’s writing, achieving this brilliantly. Why not indulge in a laugh and a lesson by witnessing this new piece of writing this Pride Month?

Review by James-Lee Campbell

Wet Feet is on at The Union Theatre until 29th June 2024, coincidentally the same day we celebrate Pride in London. You can find out more and buy tickets here.

If you like this review you might also like my review for F**king Men, Grindr The Opera and Julie The Musical.

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