Photo Credit: Stephen Vaughan.
When the Everyman Theatre were planning the plays to produce for their new Company season, they would have had no idea of the impending snap election that was to be called. The timing of The Sum, the penultimate show in the repertory, could not have more relevant if they had tried.
Penned by Lizzie Nunnery, who both wrote the piece and composed the music with her husband Vidar Norheim, this play with songs is bursting with intense wit, toe-tapping musical numbers and an intrinsic sensitivity to the plight of the modern working class. It is a play, ultimately, about control – Eve (Laura Dos Santos, self-described ‘numbers woman’, spends the duration of the play not being able to make the numbers for her family budget add up in a system that is not designed to help her, or anyone else in her background.
Eve’s work and her home life are fragmented throughout the course of the play. Her boss Alan (Patrick Brennan), is forced to cut hours and eventually close his homeware store, leaving the entire workforce out of a job. Where at home she must deal with her mother Iris’ (Pauline Daniels) dementia, her daughter Lisa’s (Emily Hughes) troubling school problems and her ‘no-mark’ boyfriend Danny’s (Liam Tobin) recent loss of a job.
Interlaced with original songs penned by Nunnery and Norheim, that span a variety of genres and feature more than a few toe-tappers throughout the performance. A personal favourite would have to be Forgive Me If I Smile (the Day that Maggie Thatcher Died), an explanation of why the North of England took to the streets to celebrate the former Prime Minister’s death when the rest of the country thought it ‘crass’.
On paper, the series of events would sound to the more cynical audience member as a ‘box-ticking exercise’, with the inclusion of themes such as dementia and school bullying, but this play absolutely dispels any feeling of that. The stories, the struggles, and the anger felt in this play all have an acute sense of authenticity to them – with definite pangs of working class frustration that’ll remind you to dig out your copy of Alan Bleasdale’s Boys from the Blackstuff all over again.
Lizzie Nunnery’s crowning glory here, for me, was its destruction of the idea that austerity that can have any use in helping an economy grow – that cuts produce a knock-on effect that ultimately leaves everyone a little more out of pocket rather than helping anything to thrive. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists concept of ‘the great money trick’ springs to mind, helpfully dissecting a complex idea into something that you could even teach a child.
Fundamentality this is a play about the many people struggling to make do with what society offers them, not just about the protagonist of Eve, we see glimpses of all those who work in the homeware store having their lives splintered in various ways. It is a play that feels distinctively linked to the DNA of the Everyman Theatre and perfectly encapsulates the concept of the Labour Party’s ‘For the Many’ slogan.