To be blunt, Groomed is an incredibly painful hour. Written and performed by Patrick Sandford, this show stages the sexual abuse he received at the hands of his primary school teacher in the 1960s, with Sandford playing both roles. It’s fair to say that Sandford’s monologue is difficult to hear and even harder to watch but his text is often strikingly beautiful, laced with threads from ancient stories about secrets, shame, and survival. He tells us about the king with donkey’s ears, whose barber had to bury his confidential knowledge in the dirt, and about the gut-puncturing guilt of Oedipus Rex. On that note, he asks, is catharsis through staged trauma truly possible? What draws humans to the performance of tragedy?
The stage is simple: a desk anchors the image of a classroom; a model theatre offers Sandford an environment within his control; and a school chair is often used as a proxy for the schoolboy-self lingering in his mind, decades later. Sandford’s performance – which is wide-eyed and head-on, veering between confrontation and apology – is punctuated by the sound of a saxophone, played by a young woman called Lucy. This bold brass instrument is the sound of unapologetic presence, Sandford says, presenting its confident sound as a personal aspiration. But Groomed is already an incredibly bold, incredibly brave performance. Sandford is breaking the silence so that others can join him.