Review: Moist, Moist, Moist @ Exeter Phoenix

*****

Chris White is the kind of guy you want to be your friend. He’s the one in your friendship group who makes stupid jokes which you feel like you shouldn’t be laughing at, but which make you piss yourself anyway. His spoken-word show, Moist Moist Moist, pulls together this silly humour with the more emotional elements of the queer experience, love, sex and relationships, into a bizarre and hilarious show about a relationship with the sea.

White’s humour is childish and playful, immediately evident when he enters dressed in a bright yellow raincoat, wellies, hat and boxers, onto a set decorated with cut-out fish and a blue tarpaulin, representing the sea. Moist Moist Moist is not strictly chronological but it roughly tracks White’s developing relationship with the sea, from first date, through a couple of years of dating, to break-up, interspersed with scenes of past events which aid the thematic development. White succeeds in gaining resounding laughs from the audience throughout hilarious scenes about his relationship with the sea: songs betting he loves the sea more than you, a first date in flippers and goggles, and teaching the audience a sea shanty, with the help of his tech and musical support, Hal. It is White’s personality that makes this all work so well, with a goofy charm and charisma that instantly makes him likeable.

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White skilfully takes advantage of the laughs to make the sadder moments hit that bit harder. One minute he’s singing a sea shanty and the next he’s recounting an incident of sexual violence at uni. This juxtaposition is startling, but it works. He holds the audience’s attention as much in the moments of humour as he does in describing the sadder moments of his queer experience. He approaches his exploration of himself, relationships and love both through silly metaphors and imagery, and through recounting painfully real moments of his queer experience. For instance, he considers the social expectations of gay men as promiscuous, his stepdad commenting after White’s break-up that it was natural it ended because two men are not meant to be together like that in a relationship.

While moments such as this evoke deep emotion, White avoids making an overwhelmingly self-pitying story, instead creating a more realistic representation of everyday life, mashing together the highs and the lows. He leans on the humour and laughs we all need to pull us through difficult times. For instance, he relates that when he was diagnosed with HIV, he was told that “HIV isn’t a sentence”, to which he was tempted to quip “no, it’s an acronym”. While worrying about whether anyone will love him, he brings himself back down, commenting that it’s a bit “pathetic” to think that, reasoning that of course someone will love you. This self-aware approach is very powerful, as instead of wallowing in sadness, White acknowledges that things are shit, but that everyone has shit to deal with too.

Spoken-word is also a key component of Moist Moist Moist. White is such a talented poet, skilfully slipping from ordinary dialogue into beautifully crafted passages that string together deeply evocative metaphors and imagery. He expresses things in such a unique manner but in a way that makes so much sense. While White’s linguistic style is heavily interlinked with its performative nature, it would be so pleasurable to read his poetry in a written format, and really take the time to appreciate his talent.

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Moist Moist Moist cleverly uses sound and lighting as a way to characterise the different scenes. For this, Hal, who is on stage for the duration of the show, provides the necessary technical and musical support. Throughout, he loops and layers sound to create a deeper atmosphere for each scene: whispering sounds and bubbles like that of the waves, soft vocals for sadder moments, and cheesy music for the ‘educational’ sections. The lighting is integral to aiding the scene transitions.

That being said, the structure is naturally messy and chaotic. One moment White is lying on the floor sensuously describing touching the sea, the next Hal is serenading him dressed as Joni Mitchell, and the next White discusses his diagnosis of HIV. This mashing together of different tones and content is made the more chaotic by White himself, often forgetting which scene comes next or laughing so much himself that he needs a moment before he can continue. The humorous manner in which White approaches this simply adds to the hilarity of the piece, leaving us sometimes wondering if the mess-ups are an intentional element of the performance.

Indeed, it is the messy-ness of Moist Moist Moist that makes it so real. The performance would not naturally lend itself to a neatly tied up resolution because its candid approach to life and its complexities reminds us that life is messy and difficult. But, White leaves us with the feeling that, while life is tough at times, laughter can do a lot to help pull us through.

Katrina Bennett

 

Photo Credits: Matt Austin

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