Shropshire Star

Curtain’s up for The Syndicate

It’s the story of five supermarket workers whose lottery syndicate numbers come in, just as their jobs and livelihoods are under threat.

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The Syndicate

The Syndicate, which blasted onto the box in 2012, was written and produced by “titan of TV” Kay Mellor with her daughter Gaynor Faye as the series script editor.

“I just knew that it was going to be a hit because she captured the brothers, the family, the whole arena of what winning the lottery and such a substantial amount of money brings to people – both the good and the not so good!

“My mum writes for people, not accolades. The people who watch her shows, those are the people she relates to, the people she champions and admires. She encapsulates them and shows what it is to be a normal everyday person. At times it’s funny, at times it’s dramatic or moving, but the key thing is that everyone can see themselves in her characters and that’s why people love her work,” says Gaynor.

With a cast including stars like Timothy Spall and Joanna Page, The Syndicate was a huge hit when it aired on BBC One and went on to enjoy success with three more series.

The first series has now been adapted for the stage by Kay in what was her final venture into theatre before her untimely death two years ago. She had already asked Gaynor to co-direct the project with her, and now the actress is going it alone in a move that she confesses has been rather daunting.

Gaynor says: “Mum’s shoes are big ones to fill, but I understand what her vision was for this production because I have been by her side from the very beginning. I’m excited for everyone to see it.” Such is the success of Kay’s writing that her stories have become a hit on the stage as well as the screen with the hugely successful stage adaptions Fat Friends – The Musical and Band of Gold, which, like The Syndicate, were also collaborations between Kay’s company Rollem and theatre producer, Josh Andrews.

For actresses Samantha Giles and Brooke Vincent, the chance to work on a Kay Mellor production was too good an opportunity to miss.

Brooke, who became a household name playing Sophie Webster in the ITV soap Coronation Street from 2004 to 2019, says landing the role of Amy was a real thrill: “I’ve kind of taken a step back to have my two boys so this is my return to acting and I’m so excited. I love Kay’s work, it’s so real and there’s such a sense of warm northern humour that I just adore.”

Meanwhile Samantha was looking for a new challenge after recently leaving her hugely successful role as Bernice Blackstock in Emmerdale, where she entertained fans on and off over the last 26 years.

Talking about her role as kind-hearted worker Denise, the 52-year-old says: “A lot of people are only used to seeing me as Bernice, who is this glamorous person and Denise is the polar opposite!

“She’s a bit on the frumpy side, life hasn’t been so good to her, she’s just totally different to Bernice which is so lovely to play. I think Kay’s writing is so good, she’s able to create real stories and wonderful characters that people can relate to and reflect how ordinary people live.

Samantha and Brooke are veterans of drama having navigated the fast pace of soap-land for years, so taking to the stage in front of a live audience should be a walk in the park.

Mum-of-two Brooke, 31, laughs: “No, of course I’ll be nervous! But the way I deal with it is just to think there’s no point worrying now, I need to just wait until I’m on stage and then be nervous and face the fear anyway! It’s that sense that you’re in a team, you all have a part to play to bring the show to life and you just need to feed off that.”

Samantha agrees: “It’s been 14 years since I’ve done a play so I am feeling nervous, but I think if you weren’t nervous you might not care. Nerves are good and I think the more we do it, the more confident we get. I just think you can’t beat live theatre. Just to hear the reaction from the audience and have that shared experience, there’s nothing like it. And there’s a bond between everyone on the stage, everyone needs to do their part and we look after each other. That’s what I love about a play like this.”

For Brooke taking on the role of Amy has been a delight: “She’s more Rosie Webster than Sophie Webster! I’ve never played a dolly bird before; she even comes out with hair extensions! I’m such a tomboy in real life so that’s been great to take on because usually when you read a role you can see yourself in the character, but I loved that Amy is so different to me. I’ve never played a character like this before.”

Samantha adds: “Denise is quite mumsy at the start, always putting everybody else before herself, and it’s interesting to see the change that happens during the course of the play, especially when she gets her hands on the money!”

The appeal of The Syndicate is that there won’t be a theatregoer anywhere in the UK who hasn’t dreamt of winning the lottery, how they would react if their numbers came up and, of course, what they would spend their winnings on.

For Gaynor it’s easy: “I’d love to open a Buddhist centre in Yorkshire. They have them in London, but we need somewhere for people to go in Yorkshire!”

Meanwhile Brooke dreams of “buying a giant house with my girlfriends and moving everyone in, but now with all the kids I’m not sure that would be a great idea!”

But Samantha is more philosophical: “I know this might sound really glib, but I have everything I need, I’ve got a roof over my head, food on the table and everyone is healthy. I’m not into designer clothes and things like that. But I suppose if I won the lottery, I’d buy a place abroad.

“But this play is a reminder to be careful what you wish for. With money comes greed and then a sense of desperation about what you’re willing to do to keep it.”

For Brooke it’s not the workload that worries her, it’s how she’s going to juggle her home life with sons Mexx, four, and Monroe, two, who she shares with husband-to-be, West Bromwich Albion footballer Kean Bryan, 26.

“I’ve no idea!” she laughs. “You might well see two extra faces on stage with me one night! Many of the shows are not too far from home so I will try and go back as much as possible, like in Leeds, I should be able to be home to take the kids to nursery and then get to work. It’s very different from my days at Corrie when I’d walk in, go get my hair and make-up done, someone would hand me my clothes and I’d pop on set. It’s completely different but that’s also why I’m so excited for it.”

The Syndicate features at Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn from June 18-22 and at Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre from June 25-29.

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