An important play about the lasting damage of child abuse
‘The adult tries so hard to forget, but the child always remembers,’ says the protagonist in Groomed, written and acted by Patrick Sandford. I am sure you will be as sad and angry as I was by the end of this 50-minute monologue about the abuse suffered by a 10-year-old child and the reverberating effect on the rest of his life. Its exceptional impact is a tribute to the former Artistic Director of the Nuffield Southampton.
Although written for the stage, this is a filmed version directed by Nancy Meckler. As with Andrew Scott in Sea Wall, having one person talking directly to you through the camera seems to me to come closest to the experience of theatre. The film also takes the opportunity to place our protagonist in a primary school classroom, the scene of the crime if you like.
Patrick Sandford takes us on a giddying ride. He tells us stories- stories from the ancient classics, a history of the saxophone, the story of the Japanese soldier who carried on fighting for 29 years after World War 2 ended, all providing metaphors for this protagonist’s experience and how it can be faced. He plays parts, even taking us a little way inside the mind of the abuser.
Most heartbreaking is the gradual revelation of the damage that the experience has inflicted on the adult. The fear, the shame, the guilt: ‘the bad done to me becomes the bad in me becomes the bad is me.’
It made me want to hug him
Like a tide that goes out and comes in again, we keep returning to the child and his awful experience at the hands of his teacher. There are no details- he is very clear that this isn’t fodder for sensational tabloids. The shock is not in what happened but how it happened, and how the grooming was allowed to happen, and how there were apparently no consequences for the teacher.
It’s so upsetting that this should happen to a fellow human being that you almost want to block it out, just as you now might want to avoid seeing this play, but Patrick Sandford stares at you, defying you, both in his words and in his piercing eyes, to look away.
And there is hope in talking about it: ‘Rage that is heard transforms to mighty trees’ he says and talks of ‘the alchemy of anger into trust’.
I understand now much more now than I did about the way in which the experience of abuse is never something historical, but rather something ever present in the life of someone who was abused. So it is educational. However Groomed is so successful as a drama because Patrick understands the power of theatre as a cathartic experience and the way it can elicit empathy as well as sympathy. ‘Open my heart for me,’ he implores. Even in these times of social distancing, it made me want to hug him.
Groomed is available on sohotheatreondemand.com until the end of August 2020