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The Syndicate - Norwich Theatre Royal (30.04.2024)

Just over a decade since it first aired on the BBC, Kay Mellor’s The Syndicate has made its way from screen to stage with this play, based on the first series of the hit show.

Until her untimely passing in 2022, this stage adaptation was earmarked for Mellor to direct, with her daughter Gaynor Faye (who also played a role in the fourth series of the TV show) set to co-direct. However, Faye has since stepped up and taken on full directorial responsibility, as well as playing the publicity-mad lottery rep.

The premise of the play is a pretty simple one - a group of five shop workers win big on the lottery and their lives are changed forever. But the problems of these ordinary folk, such as poverty, illness, and failing relationships, are not necessarily solved by sharing the £24m jackpot.

The characters are a nice, eclectic mix: Oliver Anthony and Benedict Shaw play brothers Jamie and Stuart, both plagued by money troubles and in Stuart's case, plagued by an awful partner (played with great relish by Brooke Vincent). Then there's Samantha Giles as dog-mad Denise, a straight talking Yorkshire lass stereotype whose husband is unhappy - until she wins the money that is. Rosa Coduri-Fulford is sweet as the kindly Leanne, a young single mother with skeletons in her closet. And completing our cast of winners is Bob (William Ilkley), the beloved manager of the shop.

It was a strange one, acting-wise. While Kay Mellor was celebrated for her portrayals of real people, it felt like a few of the actors strayed into caricature and played some of the gags to the audience at times, which jarred a little.

While it was entertaining throughout, it took a while for the storyline to get going until the undoubted highlight of the first half with the hilarious and well-choreographed bungled robbery taking place. In the second half, following the lottery win, we are then filled in on the characters' various personal troubles, and inevitably much of the play focuses on the fallout from the robbery.

Much like the TV show, it hooked us in and made us feel invested in the characters, only to end with some big question marks hanging over the characters and their lives. While that might work for TV when there's another series planned, some might have been frustrated leaving the auditorium wondering what happened next. However, I don't believe audiences should always be spoon-fed stories, so if it's prompted debate then it's likely job done for the production team.

All in all, it was an absorbing and funny show, with some fine costume and set design giving some great visual interest too. The Syndicate continues at Norwich Theatre Royal until 4 May, and it's a ticket definitely worth taking a punt on.


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