The Syndicate

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham


There is little doubting Kay Mellor’s pedigree and achievements as one of the UK’s finest scriptwriters. Hugely popular drama’s like Band of Gold, Fat Friends and The Chase firmly established her as an audience favourite, with a real ability to tap into the lives of her characters and their situations.

Her tragic death in 2022 meant that The Syndicate would be the final play she would write. Appropriate and fitting then that her daughter Gaynor Faye would keep the project alive as Director. A lasting testament to her much loved mother.

The play version evolved from the successful BBC series which ran for an impressive nine years until 2021. The main premise centres around a group of shop workers who come into a huge amount of money after their syndicate hits the jackpot on the lottery. It’s an ideal starting point for a drama - and one that has been explored before with plays like Amanda Whittington’s Ladies Day and even musicals like Spend, Spend, Spend! - but what makes it a subject worth revisiting is the exploration of how money can effect and change people.

There are other strands to the story, woven skilfully in as you would expect from someone of Kay Mellor’s ability to flesh out characters and their interactions. Even with the materialistic trappings of a new fortune, real life goes on. People get ill. Relationships break up. Friendships gets tested. Families still feud. A 72 inch TV on one wall and a Monet on the other may be impressive but if love and families breaks down, is it really worth it in the end?

A well bonded cast keep the fast moving story alive, shifting from shop worker setting in Act 1 to designer dressed, post win millionaires in Act 2. Bretta Gerecke’s set and costume design reflects the change in lifestyle nicely - providing a stark visual contrast between the two acts.

At times some of the theatrical requirements were a little lost. Dialogue was occasionally muted and cues not always picked up with pace. All elements that can be addressed in a post edit for TV but vocal projection and diction needs to be front and centre onstage. Just occasionally it was lost.

William Ilkley stands out as veteran worker Bob. Subtlely comedic and naturalistic throughout. There is a particular style, timing and approach from ex Hull Truck Theatre Company Actors - Ilkley has it is spades.

Ex Corrie Actor Brooke Vincent makes the not always easy transition from TV to stage with grit and realism . . . her final scene, alone with all her trappings . . . is a powerful and telling image.

Given it’s back story and the family connection here, The Syndicate deserves to be seen. It’s a funny, moving and very ‘real’ story - as you would expect from the pen of one of the country’s great writers.  

Tom Roberts


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