Groomed is the painfully honest telling of writer and performer Patrick Sandford’s abuse at the hands of David Moorby, one of his primary school teachers. It weaves a complex narrative from myth, historical anecdote and personal experience, to speak important truths about shame and the complexities of abuse. With added saxophone music.
The significance of the saxophone becomes apparent not only in the refrain: “To get better, you have to practice,” but also in the story of its inventor, Adolphe Sax. He is one of the main counterpoints to Sandford’s story; the other is a Japanese intelligence officer, Hiroo Onada, who refused to believe the Second World War was over for 29 years. Along with references to Oedipus and King Midas, these moves away from the main narrative acknowledge both the performer's and audience's desire for relief and distraction, while also shedding further light on the themes and lessons of the play.
Sandford’s direct address to the audience is a powerful tool in his presentation of these events. He points out both the importance of his truth-telling, and the suggested fault in us for wanting to hear it. The difficulties faced by victims of abuse - in being prepared to speak out, and also in being successfully heard - are explored fully. But it’s his voicing of both abuser and abused that creates the most impact. He seeks to understand the man who had such a profound and long-lasting effect on his life, and he shows Moorby to be a person too, one who acted upon impulses he would have had little opportunity to seek help about himself.
It’s an impressive solo performance, particularly considering the true nature of the experiences narrated. But the lack of another actor does reduce the opportunities for drama in some places, leaving Sandford with no choice but to tell a lot of his story, rather than showing it. The analogies work up to a point, but require perhaps too much explanation to make their significance clear.
Overall, though, this is an important and powerful piece, which skirts the line of discomfort expertly by regularly pointing it out directly. It explores many complicated aspects of abuse in an insightful and enlightening way, and does a good job of demonstrating how far-reaching and damaging such experiences can be.