Sunday, 18 June 2017

REVIEW: Groomed at Soho Theatre

Groomed is an autobiographical one-man play which lasts around 60 minutes and is written by award winning director Patrick Sandford, who is returning to his roots as a performer. When he was not even ten years old, his school teacher abused him sexually – at school, in his home and more. Others didn’t seem to notice, or didn’t want to call out the teacher. It took Sandford nearly 30 years after that to reveal his trauma to the world, after keeping it repressed and letting it handicap his life and relationships for all that time. 

This is far from just being a monologue explaining Sandford’s trauma. The hour swishes by, not only because of the utter focus everyone feels in the room when listening to his story, but also because of the quality of the writing: the actor dramatises various parts of his life, playing different characters such as his mother, his attacker, himself as a young boy and older. He also juxtaposes his story with anecdotes of a Japanese soldier who remained at his defence post for almost 30 years after World War II was over, and the Belgian inventor of the saxophone. This instrument is beautifully introduced to the play thanks to a saxophonist who does not leave the stage and intersperses the text with short and often surprising musical interludes. 

Sandford explains that the saxophone is a very present instrument. You can’t really ignore it, and it can take you by surprise. It also emits a joyful sound, which lifts the subject and the room’s spirits. 

The story of the Japanese soldier is a poignant choice: he stayed at his post for almost three decades, which is also the average time a boy who has been a victim of sexual abuse takes to reveal the truth. I found interesting how the text analyses what happens after the truth is spoken: it is a slow acceptance period and a willingness to live as normally as possible. 

The set design, containing a child’s wooden chair, a desk showing a carboard theatre stage and helium balloons, is full of essential symbols that bring the story forward. It contains many colours and my favourite moment was when, in a lighter sequence about Sandford’s survival, he attaches the helium balloons to the cardboard stage and lets the stage fly around the room. He wanted to illustrate how theatre and fiction actually saved his life and it was a moment we could all relate to. 

Indeed, the aim of his show is also to educate viewers on the difficulty but also the hope this story represents. Sandford hopes to create a dialogue, help men express their trauma sooner after the traumatic event and even show us that every perpetrator of these crimes is different and comes from a different background. 

Overall, this show opens up the conversation, encourages us to talk about
taboos. If children are the victims of these crimes and this can bring on so many health issues in their futures, how can we include this subject in schools in a logical and efficient way, without blaming anyone or creating unnecessary fear? What is more, how can we resist how the media blows certain stories out of proportion for their own political gain? 

I encourage anyone to see this show, as you truly come away from it awakened and aware of the subtleties of the issue. Politics, family and shame come into play, when what is most important is to listen to the human story. This is educational theatre at its best. 

Review by Sophie Tergeist 

Rating: ★★★★★

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