Fringe Online 2020
A man enters a school where there is a lone saxophonist playing. He introduces the theme he shall explore, of secrets, the principal characters of his drama, Paddy, a 9 year old boy and his abusive primary school teacher, playing all the parts whilst performing in one of the classrooms. Through the telling of his abuse and his surviving to eventually thriving we have an interwoven narrative that includes the Japanese soldier who refused to stand down at the end of the Second World War and the story of the inventor of the saxophone to help illuminate how the abuse affected him and how the examples of others helped him come from such an appalling set of childhood traumas. We are taken through the abuse, his primary school memories, his battles to expose the man, the institutionalized responses and the way he found solace as a gay man in being who he has become.
Childhood abuse is an uncomfortable topic that even now after all the openness that we seek to provide for people to come forward still causes the ripple of discomfort that makes those who are suffering reticent about doing so and exposing those responsible. Here Patrick Sandford has steeled himself to use the opportunity to give his story a platform; it’s a very welcome addition to the exposure.
I did have some problems with the piece mainly when he talks of what we ought to be doing to change things. I felt this was where it stopped being dramatising and just started pontificating; it lessened the impact. The initial use of the Oedipus story with the model theatre also didn’t work as well in reality as it did, I am sure, in theory. We also have a few chair throws in the room and if you are going to throw a chair, don’t do it gingerly. There seemed to be a reticence in the environment to be adult angry.
Aside from that this is one of the most exhilarating and disturbing narratives on the theme of child sexual abuse that I have watched for a considerable time. The script seethes and sooths in equal measure managing a balance, for the most part, of helpless childlike pain and hopeful adult anger.
Sandford is an amazing narrator. Given that this is an autobiographical piece, I found it remarkable that he has managed to maintain an artistic distance that drives the whole thing with ease and guile. We get taken on a journey with the bringing in of both the soldier and the inventor of the saxophone in ways that make absolute sense. Where it is most effective – telling his mother, the incredibly detailed descriptions of the acne, under the desk and so on – make this a tale told at a superior level of artistic endeavour.
The direction from Nancy Meckler is not so heavy handed as tight and focused on allowing the narrative to develop and weave into our psyche. The environment works well enough though I did find that when the explosions happened it was a little restricted – whilst it could be argued this chimed with how a 9 year old who was being abused would feel I thought, for me, it did not give full force to that anger and the full effect of the experiences.
This was a performance online onto which I stumbled, and honestly I am so glad that I did. It doesn’t overtly shock but gently guides us to that shock as Sandford manages to be both abused and give us an insight into the power of an abuser from way back then. I was a child way back then and the depiction of the teacher was chillingly real. That I escaped such attention is something for which I am grateful, that my attention as caught by this, has a similarly important gratitude attached.