REVIEW: Kay Mellor’s The Syndicate, Leeds Grand Theatre, until Sunday ****

Grappling brothers: Benedict Shaw’s Stuart, left, and Oliver Anthony’s Jamie in Kay Mellor’s The Syndicate at Leeds Grand Theatre

THE celebs were out in force on the first night of this stage conversion of Kay Mellor’s BBC drama series The Syndicate, in memory of the late Leeds playwright, screenwriter, actress and producer.

From Bradford pantomime stalwart Billy Pearce to Jodie Prenger and a coterie of Emmerdale soap stars, they gathered in celebration of Kay, who died on May 15 2022 at the age of 71.

Originally Kay was to have directed this premiere with actress daughter Gaynor Faye, who said beforehand: “It is extremely special to be a part of this new theatrical version of The Syndicate and one which my mum was excited to stage.

“Having acted in the last series on TV, when she asked me to assist her in directing the show, I jumped at the chance. Now, it has become my first solo directing role and whilst I am so sad not to be doing it with her, I am also very proud and excited to bring mum’s vision to the fore in her hometown of Leeds.”

The Syndicate cast with Kay Mellor’s grandson, Oliver Anthony, outside Leeds Grand Theatrre. Picture: Aaron Cawood

Playing to a home crowd, so appreciative of council estate-raised Kay’s work on stage and screen, from A Passionate Woman to Fat Friends, Band Of Gold to In The Club, found the Leeds Grand bathing in a mood of nostalgia and reflection but of anticipation too.

The Syndicate ran for four series on the Beeb from 2012 to 2021, each with a different ensemble of six lottery winners, tracing what happened next, the good and the bad.

In the wake of stage adaptations of Band Of Gold and Fat Friends, Kay’s final stage play reprises the comedy drama format from the TV series, this time with a syndicate of five supermarket workers, whose lottery syndicate numbers come in, just as their jobs and livelihoods are under threat from a prospective new superdupermarket next door.

We meet them before Gaynor Faye’s bubby lottery company rep Kay delivers their £24 million jackpot. In the store team are phlegmatic check-out stalwart Denise (Samantha Giles, from Emmerdale); reserved, is-she-hiding-something Leanne (Rosa Coduri-Fulford); old-school, kindly manager Bob (William Ilkley, a familiar face from so many John Godber plays and beyond), and two brothers, struggling Stuart (Benedict Shaw) and jack-flash Jamie (Oliver Anthony, in his highly impressive stage debut, having played Theo in season four of the TV series).

The cast for Kay Mellor’s The Syndicate on Bretta Gerecke’s set design

In trademark Kay Mellor style, the characterisation is both intriguing and fully realised, and the dialogue fizzes with northern truth, observational humour and the warmth of familiarity in its patterns of behaviour. As ever, she draws in her audience to the point of complete connection with what ensues.

Stuart’s girlfriend Amy (Brooke Vincent, from Coronation Street) is pregnant and expectant of a lifestyle he can’t fund. Find a place for them to live, or that’s it, she demands. Cue Jamie suggesting the brothers should make off with the day’s takings from the safe, but the robbery goes wrong when Bob turns up and is hospitalised by a blow from Jamie.

Jerome Ngonadi’s offbeat copper, Newall, starts his investigations just as the syndicate strikes lucky as two storylines then overlap. Will the truth emerge and how will each winner react to sudden wealth, especially as one was not up to date with weekly payments.

Faye’s Kay drives the publicity drive but both brothers have something to keep hidden and so does Leanne, from her past. Giles’s Denise embraces cosmetic surgery; Jamie laps up the sharp suits and the even smarter car; Bob faces crucial surgery; Amy spends, spends, spends like Viv Nicholson, new house, new décor, new clothes. In the best performance of all, and Mellor’s best writing to boot, Shaw’s Stuart is troubled by his conscience.

Life’s a lottery for Brooke Vincent’s Amy in The Syndicate

For all the humour, Mellor is ultimately questioning the cost, the price, of craving money and fame. On the one hand, the self-destructive Jamie flies too close to the sun, but on the other, love will out for Bob, blossoming with new partner Annie (Jade Golding), and the burgeoning feelings of Stuart and Leanne.

Snippets of pecuniary pop songs, from Pink Floyd to Money’s Too Tight To Mention, pop up throughout, like a Greek chorus: one more canny detail in Faye’s well-judged, strikingly uncomplicated direction.

The glitter is to be found in Bretta Gerecke’s set and costume designs for Vincent’s Amy, but all that glisters is not gold, as a lonely, empty Amy discovers in Mellor’s cautionary finale.

Kay, how we miss your wit, your humanity, your Yorkshire nous, but how glad we are that your plays live on.

Kay Mellor’s The Syndicate, Leeds Grand Theatre, 7.30pm tonight, tomorrow and Friday; 2.30pm and 7.30pm, Thursday and Saturday; 4pm, Sunday. Box office: 0113 243 0808 or

One Reply to “REVIEW: Kay Mellor’s The Syndicate, Leeds Grand Theatre, until Sunday ****”

  1. Saw The Syndicate last night at The Grand. It was a wonderful production, funny, poignant and so Yorkshire. Gaynor, your mum would be so proud of you producing as well as acting in it. Your boy Oliver has a great future ahead of him. Well done to all the cast and the costumes & wonderful set added to the magic of your production. Loved it!

Comments are closed.