After winning three awards at the Brighton Fringe Festival in 2016, Groomed takes to the stage of the Soho Theatre as part of their Spring/ Summer season. Written and performed by theatre director Patrick Sandford, Groomed knits together three narratives in a swift 50-minutes, after which a post-show conversation is held. Directed by Nancy Meckler and presented by INGENIOUS PURPOSE, Sandford’s solo performance celebrates the power of theatre and its potential as a tool with which to communicate a secret, and as a means of telling the truth.
Groomed explores three very different individuals, one of whom is Sandford himself. The first story recounts an abhorrent experience from his school-boy years, where he became a victim of sexual abuse by one of his teachers. The second delves into the life of a Japanese soldier at the time of World War Two, who, after being drilled by the military never to surrender, remains at his post in the Philippines for twenty-nine years even after the conclusion of the battle. The third tells of how an unlikely Belgian man, against all odds, manages to become the inventor of the saxophone.
The stage is shared by Sandford and Tomm Coles, a saxophonist who sits at a music stand, stage left. A chair is parked behind a desk that houses a number of miscellaneous items, and behind there lingers a bouquet of helium balloons. An authentic school bell had been planted on the floor, and Sandford proceeds to ring it, marking the beginning of his story – ‘playtime’ is about to commence.
Sandford speaks with the earnestness of a children’s storyteller, and discloses the identity of his attacker in searing detail. Here, the truth is paramount. Now sixty-five, he returns to the unsettling ages of nine and ten, to when the abuse was at its worst. Conversing with invisible children, Sandford shifts between his character-self and that of Mr. David Moorby. At points, this changing of personality is highlighted by an irregular babble from Coles’ saxophone. The instrument itself is agreeable, but its presence within the piece often distracts more than it serves to lighten the mood of the performance.
Secrets spill from him as he gulps rosé from the bottle, and words bounce about the space like the cocktail of SSRI’s that pour forth from what was thought to be a tube of smarties. The shame surrounding the event racks Sandford’s beautiful script, often causing him to disassociate and wander along another path of thought – or more precisely, two. The stories of Hiroo Onoda and Adolphe Sax appear infrequently throughout, and do not develop into steadfast narratives in their own right, but merely serve to bolster his own.
Perhaps Groomed should not be exhibited as three isolated accounts, but take pride in the one, bold tale that it tells. Sandford has bravely captured what it means to be a survivor, and covers the many obstacles that an adult victim of assault faces as they attempt to recover from a childhood trauma. To be present with Sandford as he liberates himself from his past is truly compelling, and to be granted the space to engage with him afterwards is even more so. As the post-show conversation began, a performative layer peeled away from the actor-director. Now bare and transparent, this is where Groomed becomes profoundly human.
Sandford has created a timely and thought provoking production, and proves, with the aid of artistic expression, that ‘the truth [really will] set you free’.
Groomed is playing at the Soho Theatre until July 1.