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The Syndicate | The Lowry

The Syndicate is a screen-to-stage adaptation written by the late Kay Mellor and directed by her daughter Gaynor Faye. This undercurrent of love and family is clear throughout the play too, as the characters’ friendships and connections are integral to its success. We follow ‘the Syndicate,’ a group of shop-workers who hit the jackpot in the Lottery. Many of them are real and tangible versions of stereotypical or stock characters, and the balance between stereotype and reality becomes more and more off-kilter with the more money the characters have. 

Much of the play's success comes from this balance. Sometimes, the humour stems from a lack of dimension or depth, but ultimately, each character gets a moment of emotionality too. In these moments, and when they are laughing together, talking, showing their relatability, they become a group of characters that we can laugh with but also cry for.

Denise, played by Samantha Giles, was an embodiment of this relationship between comedy and drama. Giles plays her as funny, distracted, charming – the glue that holds the group together, and a lovely example of characterisation that can be both emotive and humorous. Benedict Shaw, as Stuart, existed more on the emotional side of this dichotomy, and handled it excellently. And Oliver Anthony leaned more into hyperbole with his incredibly frustrating-but-believable performance of the naivety of Stuart’s younger brother, Jamie.

Humour is also effectively utilised in the costumes by Bretta Gerecke. In the second act, there were several gags created purely from the characters’ entrances, decked out in new costumes. The set design works well, too (also by Gerecke), as the colourful local shop where the group work morphs into something beige and lifeless after their win.

The Syndicate is charming, funny, and engaging; it is so close to the jackpot, but its moral ambiguities prevent it from winning completely. The finale sways unsteadily with an uncertain purpose. Are we meant to be left with, for example, the fact that crime is a product of social causes? Or that money can't buy you happiness? Or, that money can in fact buy (something surely close to) happiness, in the form of stability, food, and the capacity to look after your children? All these things are true, and all these things are wafted in front of us here. But it never really lands on a stance and sticks to it. The play privileges the police and judicial system in a way that is unexpected given its first act, as we focus on the humanity and desperation of a few of the characters. Because of this, the endings to Stuart and Jamie’s arcs seem too abrupt and simple considering the build-up.

Regarding the play’s morality and messaging, the very last few moments are slightly too obvious and cliché; they lean heavily on ideas of money vs happiness, as mentioned above. Similarly, there is a lack of depth to the character of Amy. It would have been nice to introduce some threads of humanity and emotionality into her character – we even saw some of these threads in Jamie. Amy’s character has traces of Harriet Craig in her, from the film Craig's Wife. It is a little disorientating to notice a film from 1936 having more sympathy for the ‘cold,’ materialistic wife and mother, than this play does.

In the end, The Syndicate is a humorous and engaging play, which ultimately does not make good on some of the promises it makes in the exposition. With a greater consideration (in the second act specifically) of the gravity of financial struggles, job insecurity, and the social conditions of criminality, it could have been a more refreshing take on the money/happiness debate. But still - it is both funny and heartfelt, and its lovable characters will make you laugh and cry. The Syndicate is playing at The Lowry until the 19th May. For more information and tickets, click here.

⭐️⭐️⭐️ (3*)

Gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography provided by The Lowry


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