BWW Review: GROOMED, Soho Theatre
How can a truth be told? How can a secret be spoken? The shame, guilt and fear of our childhood can haunt us into adulthood. A betrayed schoolboy, a Japanese soldier, and the inventor of the saxophone all have something in common - the desire to be heard. Raw, thought-provoking and never self-indulgent, GROOMED weaves together three different narratives to show how a story can save a life.
Patrick Sandford's partly autobiographical solo show - in which he candidly shares some harrowing personal experiences of abuse - is uncomfortable to watch, but not too overbearing. His delivery grips us for the entire hour, and the poetry is shocking, yet all too familiar. It could be seen as an impossible task to effectively put humour into the script, but Sandford achieves this with delicacy.
The use of a saxophone is a beautiful metaphor. Played by Tomm Coles and composed by Simon Slater, it adds harrowing undertones, but not only that, the story of its creation is topical. Adolphe Sax was the Belgian who invented the instrument. His mother once said that "he's a child condemned to misfortune; he won't live." Sax faced many near-death experiences, such as falling from a height of three floors, burning himself in a gunpowder explosion, and surviving poisoning and drowning.
He also recovered from lip cancer and several bankruptcies. Despite his turbulent life and constant oppression from the people surrounding him, he invented an instrument that was unafraid to be heard. A sound that exclaims, "I'm here, and you will know who and what I am." The saxophone is sexual, intellectual and obtrusive, and is an effective parallel to Sandford's story.
Sandford manages to cover many different viewpoints in an hour's performance, doing so with clarity. A word mentioned frequently is 'fear' - fear of not being believed, fear of being accused of money-grabbing, jumping on the bandwagon, or being pejoratively labelled gay. Counterintuitively, the removal of abuse in itself can feel abusive, and we are invited to consider the long-lasting impact of such treatment.
How can a person feel ordinary after being abused? How can people be supported when the authorities are not helping? And is paedophilia a sexual orientation? The play demands answers to many questions, while debunking myths surrounding abuse - like the misconception that the majority of people who are abused go on to abuse.
Sandford wrote GROOMED to tell the truth, and says that he feels empowered for doing so. The post-show discussion is just as illuminating as the performance itself. For it we are joined by Mankind, a Sussex-based charity that offers men an opportunity to talk about any unwanted sexual attention or contact they may have experienced. Mankind has funded the show, and we discover that one in six men are affected by sexual abuse.
The piece has been performed to the police, therapists and government officials. What is distressing to hear is that schools are apprehensive of showing it to children, mentioning that they are frightened of what the knock-on effects will be. GROOMED is an excellent example of theatre's potential ability to heal. It seems vital for it to be taken into educational establishments, in order for it to reach as many people as possible. As much as you want to turn away you can't, and it makes for necessary viewing.