Wet Feet – Union Theatre, London

Reviewer: John Cutler

Writer: Michel Neri

Director: Dominic Rouse

“You’re a new gay aren’t you” self-confident, twenty-something Nathan tells his uninvited guest Franko. The latter has gate-crashed Nathan’s private room at the gay sauna without any salacious intention whatsoever: something of a no-no so far as Nathan is concerned. What follows in Michel Neri’s Wet Feet is an odd couple romcom with a side order of coming-out angst. Think Netflix’s hit series One Day telescoped into a few weeks, infused with camp, set at a venue for onsite sex.

An unlikely duo this certainly is. Franko (Neri performs as well as writes) is 34 and has an OCD-like obsession with cleanliness that stems, he supposes, from an upbringing in the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Not content with bringing his own towels he wears a blue latex glove and has sanitiser and hand wipes in his bum bag to disinfect anywhere he sits. Aside from “the Royal Caribbean” he has never been cruising before. For him, the sex sauna is a kind of liminal space on a tortuous journey of coming out. He claims to be here for the steam room, not rumpy-pumpy (even a kiss induces a panic attack), an affectation Nathan describes as like “going to McDonald’s for the salad”.

Self-assured Nathan (Matthew Edgar) has, in contrast, been to this rodeo before. He came out at school, dallied with being bi at university then partied hard with a long-term boyfriend. The man has no illusions as to what the sauna offers: easy, no-commitment bonking with free parking. His main concerns are avoiding his dentist in the cubicle next door (“at least he knows now what it’s like to get a filling” we hear) and remembering to pick up his nephew from school soccer practice. But beneath the surface is Nathan any less affected by internalised self-loathing than Franko?

One loves Cher, the other Madonna, and there is an avenging Jehovah in the background. Can this budding romance ever really take off? Wet Feet works better as comic love story than it does polemic. The middle section palls with an extended riff on growing up in a culture still suffused with homophobia. The gripes are real, but the context feels wrong: would these two really be engaged in 15 minutes of political virtue-signalling when what they really want is to get it on? It feels, dare one say it, a bit preachy. Just get to it boys for goodness sake.

Part of the problem here is how Neri sees the sauna: partly as a refuge and partly a prison that stops the couple from expressing who they really are. It may be both, but as we never see the characters outside this context the bigger parts of their lives are missing. At best we only see part of Frank and Nathan, and it ain’t the most important part.

Runs until 29 June 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

Preachy gay romcom

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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