To the Dam @ 24:7 Festival

Review by Jamie Dunn | 08 Aug 2014

We meet Lisa stretched out on a warm rock as she stares across “England’s highest beach”. She’s not by the seaside, however. This is a man-made phenomenon: a dam near Todmorden, West Yorkshire. As she sits and sketches her monologues reveal the men that have shaped her: a handful of boyfriends, her cheating husband (Drew to her, Andy to his mistress), and Pete Burns, the Dead or Alive frontman, who taught her how to wear makeup. 

Lisa, to quote Burns, is spinning like a record, right round round. Foul-mouthed and furious at the cards she’s been dealt, Jo Gerard plays Lisa with a beguiling mix of grit, guts and regret. Speaking to the wind, birds and the insects that make up To the Dam’s soundtrack, she struggles through her precarious relationship with her wild teenage daughter (she’s blowing her off to spend a day in the sunshine) and, most poignantly, recreates the heart-breaking moment her still-born first child was ripped from her arms. 

This one woman show – written and directed by John Clarke – has a vivid clarity. The audience is constantly aware of where Lisa is: physically and mentally. Gerard is particularly deft at bringing to life the play’s off-stage antagonists: Lisa’s recollection of a tense encounter in a lift with the woman Drew left her for marks Gerard out as a gifted storyteller. It’s telling that the one false note in the play comes during an audio recording, where Gerard is required to simply lie in a foetal curl and listen as a past trauma unfolds on the soundtrack.

This heavy-handed moment aside, Clarke’s script is witty and wise: “Tracey Emin’s not the kind of name you can bring up in Lidl,” Lisa muses at one point, confessing to being somewhat of an artist herself. Like many of her one-liners, it’s a good gag that gains heft as the play goes on. Though ultimately a play of frustration and loneliness, To the Dam refuses to wallow in dark self-indulgence. There is the suggestion that you can’t keep this indomitable woman down, and a rapturous finale suggest the floodwaters of her life might just be ready to burst open and set her free.

To the Dam was part of Manchester's 24:7 theatre festival.