Brighton Fringe 2017
Theatre director Patrick Sandford follows at Sweet Dukebox with what was intended as a continuation of his award-winning Groomed. Instead he questions the very notion of happiness itself with multi-instrumentalist and soprano Loren O’Dair. The Sussex-based sexual abuse charity Mankind and director participate. Till May 27th.
It’s not a sequel. Following his award-winning Groomed, award-winning theatre director and (once again) actor Patrick Sandford follows at Sweet Dukebox with what was intended as a continuation: instead he questions the very notion of happiness itself with multi-instrumentalist and soprano Loren O’Dair, who sits to one side with a keyboard and muscle instruments. A Minotaur’s head glares from a pole. A ladder’s deployed. Lighting’s deftly deployed to punctuate one or two scenes.
We have to forget Groomed and its compulsive narrative. Keith Douglas once wrote about being a poet in World War Two: ‘Hell can’t be unleashed twice’ pointing out Owen, Sassoon and Rosenberg had done that; he must try something different. ‘Practising joy on the road to hell and back.’ That’s what makes this show even more imaginative, more theatrically risky, more theatre. That’s before Q&A.
Blooming draws on what it might be to have the rose’s thorns growing through not outside the rose. It’s the fit of several striking images marking this piece as different. These images draw on others’ experiences though centre Sandford’s. How self-loathing and self-doubt shades all forms of abuse. Using occasional personal narratives Sandford draws on O’Dair’s musicianship and his quirky irascible stage relationship with her. O’Dair plays keyboard the violin once (a folk snap) the accordion; she can play seven instruments, coming from a musical family, has a great love life, is blooming is… Sandford’s envious. He tosses a blanket over her to stop her playing, shuts O’Dair up several times, yet her persistent challenging of him to justify his own trauma as separate from her own fears, her own defeats, chips round Sandford’s carapace. It’s a courageous gambit. Andrew Marvell once wrote to his nephew back in 1677: ‘It is as if one had to dissect oneself, and read the anatomy lesson.’ This is it. Sandford’s standing in judgement on his own fear, and finding his own trauma something to acknowledge, but whose effects – most of all fear of intimacy – he has to challenge. He does this with stories of others: it’s a generous show where Sandford names those who’ve inspired him.
Sandford observes Charles Handy’s maxim: ‘To learn anything other than the stuff you find in books, you need to be able to experiment, to make mistakes, to accept feedback, and to try again.’
Two other striking images frame this fifty-minute immersion. The Minotaur’s myth comes down from its pole, Ariadne the true heroine of the tale, the one who provides the thread to allow Theseus to return from the maze. It’s this permission or narrative Sandford compellingly discovers as one key to living.
Another is mountaineering, Sandford still able to climb, the ladder here providing him with ample opportunities to twit O’Dair and her continued gauntlet-throwing. She won’t stop singing, or stop at singing. He sprinkles talc over her hair: she’s ninety-eight. She’s sculptor Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) famed for constructing giant spiders seen at Tate Modern. It’s not what you’d think, of course. The spider’s the protective mother too, Bourgeois surviving her father’s abuse to create a monumental language of affirmation. ‘I am not the magic blooming bloke.. but I’m working on it’ Sandford’s querulous, snappy, unnervingly direct address doesn’t say look at me, but look at you.
Blooming’s an outstanding work still developing, but judging by Sandford’s original deployment of images and the interaction between performers, it’s becoming a definitive statement. There’s much to discover, especially for many at the Q&A. If you care for the human condition, you must see this.