Groomed review at Soho Theatre, London – ‘courageous show about child sexual abuse’
Patrick Sandford’s one-man show Groomed is a vital act of bearing witness. With great honesty and delicacy, the 65-year-old theatre director tells how, aged nine, he was sexually abused by a teacher at his primary school.
There was collusion and cover-up: another teacher directly witnessed an assault, but said nothing. The abuser even charmed Sandford’s unsuspecting mother with bottles of Mateus rosé wine and flirty teatime visits. As is the case for many victims, decades passed before Sandford could speak out about what was done to him.
Few props are used, to striking effect. These include a weighed-down bunch of balloons and a child’s school chair, so startlingly tiny against the adult’s desk. On this is laid a model theatre that delighted Sandford as a boy – a transportive place of sequins, spangles and idealised love.
For the adult Sandford, the “survivor and thriver” who tells, the theatre is crucially an empathetic space. While confronting his own ravaged sense of being, his myriad fears, isolation and anger, Sandford also tries to reach some understanding of the man who terrorised him.
He conjures up flashes of his confused childhood self and the “smirking” abuser with remarkable physical and verbal deftness, his phrases often imbued with muscular poetic vigour.
An onstage saxophonist punctuates the spoken word with piercing shrieks and soothing coils of sound. The instrument, Sandford says, is “unafraid of being present”. Movingly, he avers the power of physical “presence” – of touch, of other bodies – to defy the traumas of the past.