Patrick Sandford shoulders a huge responsibility in Groomed – to unflinchingly explain his experience of childhood sexual abuse to a room full of strangers. His words and performance stem directly from his own direct experience of grooming from his primary school teacher, and have been influenced by conversations with other male survivors, and verbatim conversations with those who have peadophilia themselves.
It is an intensely personal project from the former Artistic Director of the Nuffield Theatre, and is supported by Sussex-based counselling charity Mankind in an effort to increase awareness and knowledge of childhood abuse. The performance sits in a middle ground between theatre, lecture, and group therapy session, with Sandford addressing the audience directly throughout, which drags this challenging and secretive subject firmly into plain sight.Each show also includes a 30 minute post show discussion, through which the audience can find out more about this hard topic.
Nancy Meckler’s direction is subtle and allows room for Patrick’s voice to become the principle focus throughout the piece. Her mediation between his words and his performance shines through. Suited to the intimate space of Soho Upstairs, Ellan Parry’s design is pleasingly sparse and multi functional – a table and chair, a length of curtain and a small cardboard theatre. Some particularly clever and inventive symbolism sees a tube of sweets, in reference to the typical cliche that you shouldn’t take sweets from strangers, become the medication Sandford has taken in his attempt to find recovery.
Sandford’s ease with the story and confident physicality gives the play a polished and practiced feel. It’s not a performance of grief or shock, but rather a celebration of his own achievements in finding healing. His authentic voice makes for a devastating and insightful impact. The use of an onstage saxophonist, Tomm Coles, provides useful interludes for changes of scene or pace, and is also woven into the story as an example of how you have to work at something in order to get better. However, it doesn’t feel like a logical device to use for such a sensitive piece – the noise in the small space and the parallels drawn between the saxophone and the story seem somewhat forced.
‘Therapy theatre’ risks being self indulgent, and Sandford openly admits that he questions whether Groomed has been made for the right reasons. The sexual abuse of children is a much-discussed topic nowadays, but the uniqueness of this piece lies in illuminating darker areas of Sandford’s experience that are less press-friendly or easy to soundbight – the grooming of parents, as a common part of the process for a molester to gain access to the child, or the unspeakable conflict in the responsibility children might feel to protect their attacker. Groomed takes on an enormously contentious subject, and perfectly shows the moments of humanity and even humour that you can find in the darkest of places.
Groomed continues its run at the Soho Theatre until Saturday 1 July. Tickets are available online or via their Box Office on 0207 478 0100. If you want to learn more about Mankind, or make a donation, visit their website here.
CAST AND CREATIVES
Writer and Performer – Patrick Sandford
Director – Nancy Meckler
Composer – Simon Slater
Saxophone – Tomm Coles
Lighting Designer – David W Kidd
Design Associate – Ellan Parry
Produced by Ingenious Purpose, in association with Mankind and DAP Ltd