Written by the late Kay Mellor, The Syndicate, like Band Of Gold, was a big TV success. It ran for four series, telling the diverse stories of a group of ordinary workers who suddenly win millions on the lottery. Before her death in 2022 Kay had already written a draft for this stage version, based on series one. Combining the draft with notes, TV scripts and enthusiastic collaborations with her mum, Kay’s devoted daughter, Gaynor Faye, brought the finished work to the stage this year, both directing and playing a role.

Kay Mellor’s work is largely characterised by the creation of warm, relatable, everyday people full of charm, playful wit and fun and generally from “Up North”, who duck, dive and wage gritty battle with the grim, heavy challenges that beset their lives and with folk a lot more heartless than they are, creating engaging dramas that often pose broader philosophical questions.

The Syndicate sets off on a light note of frivolous humour as we get first, superficial glimpses of five everyday workers in a grocery store, their relationships and personalities gradually fleshing out through their conversations as we learn more of their problems and heartaches. Humour builds to farce when, with toy gun, the store is robbed, but chills of horror and violence pervade as the act one curtain falls, paving the way for more devastating events and revelations in act two, infused all the while, though it is, with warm humour and elements of optimism.

The crafting of the piece may not be the smoothest, subtlest or slickest, but excellent performances lend lively reality to the characters and events, and the play’s message packs considerable impact, especially in the hard-hitting climax of the final moving scene.

Although the effects of sudden great wealth on the five lottery winners and their partners feature high, the play revolves primarily around relationships and other core values in life. At the centre is the escalating, explosive relationship of chalk-and-cheese, co-worker brothers, Stuart and younger Jamie, both superbly acted by Benedict Shaw and Oliver Anthony (son to Gaynor Faye and grandson to the late Kay Mellor). They and their emotions work most convincingly together, Shaw bringing out the great warmth and caring in dejected, anxious, money-strapped Stuart, and Anthony lending non-stop energy, sparkle, swagger and strut to his stage-debut role as Jamie. His initial cocky, selfish, unthinking attitude may have a certain roguish charm but once his heartless, feckless recklessness and bitter resentment accelerate, especially once rich, it spells only deep tragedy and disaster. William Ilkley gives an equally fine performance as the genuinely warm, altruistic, endearing store manager, Bob, and the three men interact wonderfully together.

Their middle-aged co-worker, dog-mad, not-too-bright Denise, is played by Samantha Giles, at first nowt but a loud, comedic voice but developing beautifully into a warm, sympathetic, highly likeable human. Leanne (Rosa Coduri-Fulford) is a quiet girl – later revealing a particular reason for that. Following the farcical robbery, DC Newall turns up, played laid-back and un-emphatic by Jerome Ngonadi, while Gaynor Faye plays lottery promoter, Kay, the role somewhat tacked on and surplus to requirements, perhaps, but audiences are overjoyed to see her. Jade Golding puts in a brief, somewhat discombobulating appearance as Bob’s new fiancee, Annie, a strangely silent part, while Brooke Vincent is Stuart’s wife, Amy, playing her big, bold and blatant, a heartless bitch of a woman. Rather like Jamie, she’s frighteningly full of herself and totally obsessed with money and the expensive material trappings it buys. In the final scene, deserted by everyone, as money rains down on her, all she has left is those hollow trappings. The clear message? Callous beings obsessed by wealth are the ones who get their come-uppance.

Emphasising the polarised attitudes of their wearers as they move from poor to rich, the highly pleasing costumes speak volumes, while the initial set of clean, bright, neat grocery store – with office and cloakroom right and left, and space for a hospital bed for anyone clobbered on the head with a whisky bottle – upgrades in act two to the new, palatial rental home of Stuart and Amy, where their rocky relationship falls further and further apart. Bursts of money-related songs – of which there are plenty, briefly kick in to nicely separate scenes.

Do money and material acquisition, then, bring great happiness? Or is the love of money a purely destructive force? Might love, friendship, loyalty, good relationships, good health and warm hearts be worth more? Not original questions, of course, but as The Syndicate sets about tackling them, fine performances bring us characters of icy cold shallowness or deep warmth as comedy, tragedy, suspense, surprise, pessimism, hope and optimism all pour into the mix to amuse, engage and entertain.

Eileen Caiger Gray