Saturday, 1 July 2017

The Sum @ The Everyman, Liverpool. 1/7/17

Today brings an end to a very special season at the Everyman. From January of this year, the Everyman once again became home to a rep company, breaking a 25 year drought. These hand picked fourteen talented actors put on five productions in six months; Fiddler on the Roof, The Conquest of the South Pole, The Story Giant, Romeo and Juliet and The Sum. This past week has seen them perform each play once again before drawing the season to a close.



I was intrigued most of all to catch The Sum. A new play, specially commissioned for the season, by Lizzie Nunnery, with the topical subject matter of economic uncertainty, brutal cuts and austerity measures, zero hour contracts and protest. As Evie, the central character trying to make ends meet, says;

"I'm a numbers person. Always have been. Give me a sum, I can do it. Give me a spreadsheet, I can balance it. And everything's a balance: time and money and energy, work and home and sleeping and waking. Wanting and planning"


Nunnery's play asks just how people are expected to cope, how they balance their lives when nothing adds up any more. And it does this with song, dance and social comment that is positively torn from today's headlines.


Starring as Evie is Laura Dos Santos (fresh from appearing in ITV's Little Boy Blue alongside Stephen Graham) who is utterly convincing as the dependable, methodical office manager of McClasker's Home Stores and the linchpin of a family consisting of a boyfriend Danny (Liam Tobin), troubled teenage daughter Lisa (Prescot born Emily Hughes, who has made her professional debut this season) and her senile mother Iris (Liverpudlian legend Pauline Daniels, whose storyline is especially affecting and well portrayed). When Evie's hours are cut at work, it throws her balancing act into jeopardy and she slowly comes to realise that no matter how many goes she has at recalculating the figures, her previously happy, relatively stable life just doesn't add up any more. It's a sobering realisation and an unjust state of affairs that many audience goers in today's world can surely empathise with. 


Part I, Daniel Blake and part La La Land (Ta La Land?) The Sum mixes social realism with heartfelt blues medleys and toe-tapping numbers (some of which the playwright Lizzie Nunnery sings here) which boast titles such as Forgive Me If I Smile (the Day Maggie Thatcher Died) and One Day I Want To Get Straight that scored as much as a direct hit with the audience as the play's dramatic core and are performed by a chorus of the play's supporting cast (Keddy Sutton, Zelina Rebeiro, Melanie La Barrie, Dean Nolan, George Caple and Tom Kanji who play Evie's shop floor colleagues at McCasker's, with Patrick Brennan as McClasker himself, the incompetent manager who believes he can gain Evie's affection like any other transaction) The set is made up of four corners - the living room, kitchen, bedroom and garden of Evie's home which also serves as McCasker's home store too - and the direction and playing ensures that there's something for every audience member to see. 



The Sum is a rousing, funny, poignant powerful and above all timely production that deserves a life beyond this Everyman season. It's references to the present day which seem so topical now (Brexit, Trump, Theresa May, the murder of Jo Cox, and local issues such as the fight to keep Liverpool Women's Hospital are all mentioned) may fade in time, but their relevance will always remain. Key to Nunnery's message is the fact that all this has happened before, in the 1980s (the music playing as we waited for the curtain to rise was a medley of '80s protest songs such as Billy Bragg's Between the Wars, Elvis Costello's Shipbuilding and The Beat's Stand Down Margaret sought to remind us that) under Thatcher, the woman who inspired happiness with her passing. We didn't learn from our mistakes in the '80s and the Tory government are back now, underestimating and undervaluing us, selling us their poor maths that we can see holes in. We cannot let it happen again. It's fitting that the closing song, Poverty Knocks, and the play itself ends on the line 'this boat is rocking', as it serves as both an acknowledgement and an encouragement to the winds of change whipping through society right now. In many ways, The Sum is the most fitting production in this return to a rep company season at the Everyman, recalling as it does much of the spirit of the politicised and personal heyday of the 1970s and Alan Dossor era that made stars of rep artistes such as Julie Walters, Pete Postlethwaite, Bill Nighy and Alison Steadman.


As the company took their bows at the end and asked our applause to go to Nunnery and the director Gemma Boninetz, seated in the audience, there was an unmistakeable feeling of something special having happened here at The Ev, so the good news is that the rep company will return for another season. I for one cannot wait.

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