Review: The Sum (Liverpool Everyman)

The celebrated Liverpool playwright Lizzie Nunnery has had works staged at the Everyman before, notably Intemperance in 2007 and Narvik in 2015. She’s also written several original plays and adaptations for Radio Four, and The Sum itself actually began life as a 2014 radio play.

Like many of her works, The Sum has a local setting, and it’s certainly a play for our times. The central character, Eve, is struggling to make ends meet and keep her household – which includes her mother, a young daughter and her partner Danny – afloat. She’s always had a head for Maths and knows where every penny comes from and where it’s going. Teresa May would no doubt describe her as ‘just about managing’, but it’s very apparent that it wouldn’t take much to push her over the edge. The family’s situation worsens when Danny loses his job and Eve’s hours at the home furnishings store where she works are cut.

Eve is offered a solution, but inevitably it comes at a price, and one that’s not financial. Can money buy happiness? Eve may be about to find out.

It’s clear that Nunnery’s primary target is the brutal, monetised culture that would have us believe everything in life can be measured and understood with the aid of a spreadsheet. There are references to zero hours contracts and the bedroom tax, but you still feel that with an occasional tweak here and there the play could have been written in the 1980s. A song about Margaret Thatcher early on seems to confirm this. There are plenty more songs, and if a weakness of the play is that Ken Loach, Jimmy McGovern and Alan Bleasdale have explored this territory before, the songs offer us something different. They imaginatively bring into the open the inner life of each character, and in the ensemble pieces reinforce Nunnery’s message that in the face of adversity communities can be a source of strength and hope.

There are frequent jokes amidst the gloom as well, and the cast from the Everyman’s repertory company do a sterling job. There are excellent performances from Laura Dos Santos as the embattled Eve, Pauline Daniels as her acerbic but increasingly confused mother, Liam Tobin as her happy-go-lucky partner and Patrick Brennan as her enigmatic boss (he voted for David Cameron, but can his brand of compassionate Conservatism really be trusted?). The young actress Emily Hughes is outstanding as Eve’s troubled daughter Lisa, still at school but in some respects wiser than all of the others.

Given what’s happening on June 8th, The Sum couldn’t be more timely. The Everyman can’t have known an election was coming when they scheduled the production, but if you’re an undecided voter this will give you plenty of food for thought.

*** An unsettling snapshot of Britain today

Photos: Stephen Vaughan. The Sum continues at the Liverpool Everyman until Saturday 20 May, then will alternate with other plays from the Everyman Company’s repertoire from 8 June to 1 July. For more information, click HERE.