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Brave, raw account of child abuse from Patrick Sandford
Patrick Sandford’s solo show is a study in how the events of a few short months can ripple through an entire life. He’s 65, with an impressive directing career under his belt. But it’s taken him over half a century to overcome the pain of being groomed by his teacher as a nine-year-old boy.
‘Groomed’ isn’t graphic, or harrowing, or mawkish. Instead, it’s an exercise in reconstructing what the educational authorities have been keen to dismiss and bury as a ‘historic’ crime. He sets out the boundaries of his primary school classroom in meticulous detail, and tries to resurrect the bogeyman by whatever character clues his childhood self could pick up: a nature table, a penchant for calligraphy, an air of loneliness.
His story is a document from an often-romanticised era when kids were trusted to find their own way home from school, and teachers were trusted to treat kids as they saw fit. Sandford tarnishes this golden age with an insight into how ‘60s liberalism and child-centred teaching could be used to justify sexual abuse.
He’s a compelling performer. He’s got the kind of clear, precise, stage-polished diction that gives the work a slightly old-fashioned air – but then, it’s incredibly unusual for a man of 65 to be making work like this, that sits on the boundary between storytelling and confessional performance.
He weaves two stories in with his own narrative, those of a doggedly loyal Japanese soldier and the inventor of the saxophone. They’re intriguing parables of survival and resilience, but they make the lived reality Sandford’s story retreat from view - in particular, his five-decade journey to recovery.
The lingering sense is of a huge, impossible-to-rectify injustice, and the realisation that Jimmy Savile was only the most notorious of the hundreds of thousands of abusers who, like Sandford’s teacher, have escaped punishment. I’m not sure what to do with that feeling. Perhaps all you can do is sit with it, and listen.