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Review: The Sum at Liverpool Everyman ****

There’s an oft-quoted statistic that we’re all only two pay days away from the street.

Those of us who get regular pay that is.

And that is the sobering thought that looms over the action in this new socially-relevant play-with-music by an obviously angry Lizzie Nunnery, who leads her viewers deep in to a precarious world of zero hours contracts, economic uncertainty, food banks and protest.

Eve (the calmly impressive Laura Dos Santos) is the linchpin of both her family and the business, McClaskers, where she works in the office – her mathematical brain and determination helping boss Alan (Patrick Brennan) keep the show on the road.

Sums are evidently the glue which keeps Eve’s life together.

Her hawk-eyed money management, juggling the in and out columns of life’s spreadsheet, keeps the roof over the head of her lost teenage daughter Lisa (Emily Hughes showing again what a bright young talent she is), failing mum Iris (Pauline Daniels) and half-feckless, half-romantic notioned happy-go-lucky partner Danny, played by Liam Tobin.

Eve (Laura Dos Santos) and Iris (Pauline Daniels) Credit: Stephen Vaughan

When the equilibrium is upset, and work is lost, it’s the signal for the worlds of Eve, her family, and workmates to tip in to a downward spiral, with Eve recalibrating and recalculating life in an exhaustive series of cutbacks and compromises.

The question that runs through Nunnery’s narrative is – how far would any of us go?

The wider cast meanwhile act as a chorus of workmates at the beleaguered homeware store McClasker’s – a sadly prescient setting given this week’s news of Liverpool institution Rapid going in to administration.

We learn a little about their own situations – dependents at home, relationships on the rocks, relationships flowering out of adversity - but it’s really only the central three or four characters here who are fully fleshed out.

The action takes place around four corners of the stage, where Eve’s living room, kitchen, bedroom and garden are also, neatly, the homeware store's displays of the same household areas.

In the centre is, as someone pointed out to me, a true ‘orchestra pit’ – or at least a band pit, where musicians Vidar Norheim and Martin Heslop are joined on occasion by actors.

Keddy Sutton and Zelina Rebeiro Credit: Stephen Vaughan

There are some sight line issues however. If you’re sitting behind the kitchen counter or the bed (as I was) you may have to imagine what’s going on down there rather than actually be able to see it.

The songs which underscore or complement the action are plaintive, poignant and punchy in equal measure, and echo a wide range of influences, from spiritual, to sort-of tongue-in-cheek Music and Lyrics-style pop, to Joan Baez-inspired protest song.

Nunnery has captured both the zeitgeist of the present – the swirling uncertainty for some brought by austerity and political change, and some of the spirit of the old Everyman in this thought-provoking piece of theatre.

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