DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

The Syndicate – Newcastle Theatre Royal

Reviewer: Colleen Hall

Writer: Kay Mellor

Director: Gaynor Faye

It would be difficult to claim that Kay Mellor’s final stage play, an adaptation of her popular TV series of the same name, is poorly paced. Once the action is underway, the play seems to pass in the blink of an eye. This is the saving grace of a story that is, like the lottery win at its centre, as by-the-numbers as you can get.

Bretta Gerecke’s set design distils the various locations of the story into a central shop floor and two downstage rooms: the manager’s office on one side and the staff room on the other, which doubles as a hospital when the mood takes it. It’s simple but effective, with the interval allowing for a complete reset which transports us into the newly flashy lifestyles of the lottery winners. The detailed realism of the set and props does, however, occasionally clash with rogue instances of almost comic fakeness, such as the obvious doll representing a newborn baby, or strange anachronisms like the use of a now-retro ‘Clapper’ to control an Alexa and play slightly outdated pop songs. Whether or not this version of The Syndicate is set in contemporary West Yorkshire or in 2012, when the first series of the show aired, is never made fully clear.

Director Gaynor Faye does well to maintain the fun, fast-paced energy of the show, including some decent moments of physical comedy, and her performance as ‘Kay’, the lottery employee who guides the winners through each step of the process, is as strong as any in the show. That said, this is a cast comprised more of caricatures than three-dimensional characters, so there is only so far any of the actors can really take their performance. Among these obvious stock characters are the desperate but morally compromised protagonist, Stuart (Benedict Shaw), his spendthrift princess of a girlfriend, Amy (Brooke Vincent), and his crass bad boy brother Jamie (Oliver Anthony), not to mention kooky middle-aged dog-lady Denise (Samantha Giles) and mysterious girl next door, Leanne (Rosa Coduri-Fulford) — the list goes on.

To begin with this array of stereotypes could provide an opportunity to play with audience expectations, but it’s one that Mellor never takes, falling back on tired cliches at every turn. The jokes are mostly low-hanging fruit and, while some audience members audibly gasped at the unfolding drama, just as many groaned or tutted at the trite predictability of it all. By the end, the conflict is resolved in a way that avoids the level of complexity that would make a story about a winning lottery syndicate truly interesting or illuminating, and we leave feeling like we’ve seen it all before.

Despite its schlocky entertainment value,The Syndicate is far from a must-see, particularly for anyone wanting to catch something even remotely surprising or fresh.

Runs until 11 May 2024.

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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