Review: The Syndicate at Newcastle Theatre Royal

Review: The Syndicate at Newcastle Theatre Royal

Kay Mellor’s The Syndicate- Newcastle Theatre Royal

Press Invite: 8th May 2024

I was very excited to see this version of Kay Mellor’s much loved drama The Syndicate on stage but it was not without a certain degree of trepidation.  The anthology series The Syndicate ran for four seasons on the BBC and follows the lives, loves and tribulations of groups of people who win a fortune on the lottery. This stage version is most closely aligned to the first and arguably the best of the TV series. 

Prolific Kay Mellor, brought some much loved dramas to TV including Fat Friends, which itself has been reborn on stage in the form of a musical, Band of Gold and the much loved The Syndicate. My concerns were largely around condensing five hour long episodes into two 50 minute halves of a theatre show. I need not have worried. Mellor’s sharp observation of character and colloquialisms is evident in this production as is a love of the source material from director, Gaynor Faye, who appears as character Kay and is, of course, the author’s daughter.

The story is much condensed and focuses in on Assistant Manager, Stuart’s (Benedict Shaw) money problems and his troubled relationship with his demanding and thoroughly unpleasant fiancé, Amy (Brooke Vincent.) These issues convince him that his only way out is to agree to a reckless and hair-brained scheme to rob his employers Right Buy U suggested by his feckless and ne’er-do-well brother, Jamie (Oliver Anthony.)

The scheme inevitably goes awry when the adorable manager and father figure to Stuart, Bob (William Ilkley) returns unexpectedly to the store and promptly gets bopped on the head with a whiskey bottle and ends up in hospital in a coma.  

Folowing the events of the botched robbery, the syndicate, of which all the store employees are a member win the jackpot in the lottery amounting to a share of £24m between the five of them. 

Other characters include dog mad and sensitive, Denise, played by Emmerdale stalwart, Samantha Giles, the delightful but mysterious Leanne (Rosa Coduri-Fulford) who has a history of her own and amorous intentions towards the well meaning but rather daft, Stuart and the fly in the ointment to the exuberent celebrations of the lottery win is Detective Chief Inspector Newall (Jerome Ngonadi) who interjects regularly with a more than a tongue in cheek performance.

All of these characters are presented with great deference to the source material and most are very likeable in their own way – except for Amy of course – she is vile in every regard. For fans of the TV series then there is nothing to disappoint in this production although the brevity of the time allowed removes a lot of the claustrophobic nature of Stuart’s predicament because it has to be wrapped up a great deal quicker in this production.

My star performer goes to Oliver Anthony who returns to The Syndicate having played a totally different character, Theo, in season four of the TV series. He is an anti-hero in this incarnation and his presence on the stage belies the fact that this marks his stage debut. You cannot take your eyes of his character, even when the lights are not on him. I suggest that he is living his best life in this part. 

The psychologists among the audience may be able to write an entire PHD on the ethical conundrums suggested by Kay Mellor’s script but I would suggest that it is viewed as the beautifully crafted and comedic piece that it is and go along for the laughs and the ride. 

Kay Mellor’s The Sydicate plays at Newcastle Theatre Royal until Saturday 11th May.

Reviewed by Stephen Stokoe

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