How does one begin to write about one’s personal experience of being molested as a child? Indeed, how does one begin to frame it as a play or show? Such is the conundrum that Patrick Sandford faces. Having spent 25 years as Artistic Director of The Nuffield Theatre, Southampton, Sandford has many years of experience in balancing ‘truth’ with what makes ‘good theatre’. To this end, he merges what are on the surface three disparate threads with a narrative that explains the factual events – along with their deeper, emotional significance.
One would imagine that any show that touches upon abuse would be 100% serious, to the point of being humourless. However, under Nancy Meckler’s direction that isn’t the case with Sandford’s show, who at judicious points injects moments of levity to draw attention to- and away- from the enormity of the task ahead…
Sandford is joined on stage by Simon Salter, an accomplished saxophonist, who contributes to the thread about Belgian musician Adolphe Sax. Known as the inventor of the saxophone, throughout his life Sax had the most unbelievable string of ‘bad luck’ – the injuries he received should have killed him many times over. However, as Nietzsche said, “That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger…”
The second tangential thread involves Hiroo Onoda, the Japanese soldier who didn’t realise the Second World War was over. He stayed at his island post for a further 29 years after V-J Day – the same amount of time it takes the average the man to come forward about childhood abuse. This is also approximately the same amount of time ‘after the event’ that Sandford first talked about his experiences in counselling.
Sandford himself is 65 years old and it has taken him 50 years off-and-on to write about what a member of the teaching faculty did to him. However, there is nothing vague about his account, considering how long ago it took place. His correspondence with his former school and local authorties has for the most part met with little or no interest, their only prompt response occuring when they thought there was a possibility the school might be mentioned by name in the show (it wasn’t). The most disturbing part of the evening was a section where Sandford spoke as if he were the perpetrator, ‘rationalising’ his attitude and behaviour to Sandford’s childhood-self. If there was any doubt how deep-rooted the abuse had affected Sandford over time, this was it.
Following the main part of the show, there was a Q&A session with Sandford and two gentlemen – one who worked for a UK-based charity that focused on male survivors of abuse and the other person someone who’s travelled around Europe to help facilitate pragmatic legislation for the reporting of abuse in each Member State. The most startling facts to come out of the discussion was that one-in-six boys worldwide are abused and for girls, that figure is one-in-four. The countries that don’t have any reported abuse are also the regions that deny such a thing takes place all… Another sad ‘fact’ is that overseas, the abuse of children is allegedly known as “the British disease”. The only glimmer of hope that can be grasped from this is that these horrendous cases have come to light – and not left unreported for decades like the Austrian Fritzl case…
© Michael Davis 2017
Groomed runs at Soho Theatre until 1st July 2017.
Tue – Sat, 7.15pm; 4pm matinees on Sats and Wed 21 Jun
Part of Soho Theatre’s Young Hearts, Old Souls Season