Wet Feet


On entering the Union Theatre you see a very plain set – just a tiled floor, a white back wall with a door leading off, and a bench at the back and a bin at the front. We are in a private cubicle at a gay sauna. Nathan enters, wearing the standard-isseu white robe, and nonchalantly poses on the bench – he exudes confidence in himself and his sexuality. He leaves and then Franko enters, who is a complete contrast – awkwardly clad in a tea shirt and ill-fitting towel and a rubber glove on one hand, he is clearly ill at ease. He proceeds to clean the bench with wet wipes, unveiling an OCD compulsion that becomes one of the themes of the play. The two of them coincide and the attraction and repulsion of opposites commences.

This is a gentle, wry and amusing play that does not overstay its welcome. The dialogue and development of the characterisations are plausible, and the actors are skilful in gradually revealing the layers of hurt and grievance that underpin both of these roles. Both individuals grow through the many short scenes but the extremes of both melodrama and unearned happy endings are avoided successfully.

I was a little concerned at the start that we were beginning from two somewhat exaggerated stereotypes  – swaggering self-confidence versus prissy, repressed closet case. But after the first couple of scenes interesting complexity of motive and situation took over from a mere bundle of familiar characteristics and the action gelled convincingly.

Matthew Edgar offered a slow-burn performance in which the outer carapace of confidence is gradually replaced by revelations of rejection and violence that remain unresolved. Likewise, Michael Neri (also the author) gained confidence and calmness, replacing staccato, defensive apprehension with a much more integrated personality. While elements of his back-story in the Jehovah’s Witnesses seemed a bit far-fetched at times, the evidence and impact of earlier psychological damage was well realised.

As in most plays of this nature, the work of the intimacy coordinator is important, and here the results within the framework of the play were more uneven. The one fully sexual encounter depicted here seemed fairly perfunctory and unconvincing; but the slow-burn, gradual inching together towards physical touch and intimacy in the earlier sections was very well worked through and mirrored the varying inflections and intensity of the dialogue with precision.

In a production of such stark simplicity lighting effects are particularly important, and Massimo Neri’s lighting design was both sympathetic and pointed in its highlighting of the actors themselves and Reuben Speed’s simple and undistracting set. All in all this was a rewarding and entertaining evening in a reflective, gentle minor key. The audience on press night received the play well and it deserves to be a focal point for the rest of its run in an area of London that is becoming more and more popular.


Union Theatre

Written by Michael Neri

Directed by Dominic Rouse

Cast: Matthew Edgar, Michael Neri

Photo Credit: Matthew Coulton

Until 29 June 2024

75 mins, no interval