The Lab, Theatre Royal Plymouth
An intense 50 minutes of role play proves unsettling and compelling as award-winning director and ubiquitous Artistic Director Patrick Sandford reveals a shocking secret.
Clearly cathartic for Sandford, nonetheless Groomed is his own candid and shocking tale of systematic childhood abuse by his primary school teacher, the blind eye turned by witnesses to the heinous acts and the devious inveigling, by means of Mateus Rosé, to secure an invitation to the family table for afternoon tea.
Honesty abounds in the exploration of confused feelings: horror and revulsion, rejection and survival with language—poetic at times—evoking a past that it has taken Sandford decades to face and years to lay the ghosts as best he can.
Emotions are raw and props simple—a child’s chair, starkly tiny next to the adult desk; a fountain pen; helium balloons and a cardboard proscenium full of promise and escape while saxophonist Jade Gall punctuates the building tension with Simon Slater’s at times strident and shrieking, at times mournful or upbeat, score.
Analogies with Ancient Greece and whispering rushes seem somewhat contrived but perhaps a more understandable parallel is that used of Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda who continued for many years to hide out in the jungle believing the war to be ongoing. As Sandford relays, it was not until his commanding officer relieved him of his duties and he was commended for his diligence, that Onoda would indeed believe it was all over.
Groomed is a tough watch but Sandford is to be commended for his diligence—and his attempts to understand his abuser, forgive those that did nothing, bring openness to a difficult subject and highlight available support.
Note that there is a Q&A after each show which includes victims and welcomes discussion so don’t prepay parking.
Reviewer: Karen Bussell