Oliver! is one of those musicals that everyone thinks they know.  We may have seen the 1968 film adaptation or heard those Lionel Bart lyrics on the radio, many of which qualify as earworms… “food, glorious food” – see, you are humming it now.

For me it has been too long since I’ve seen a production of Oliver!, and too long since I have listened to the songs in chronological sequence within the context of the story.

With a bang the house lights go out, the orchestra strikes up and the stage lights glow. There, alone centre stage is young Archie Ball as Oliver singing “Where is love?”  Can you believe it? His first performance with Colchester Operatic Society.

There are many memorable individual performances in this show, including a wonderful mincing Fagan (Adam Woodhouse), but what really struck me were the big numbers, the classics that see virtually all of the cast on stage weaving about in carefully choreographed precision – ‘Consider Yourself’, Pick a Pocket’, ‘Oom-Pah-Pah’.  Then came the number that I had totally forgotten was part of this show. Its glorious harmonies performed pitch perfect as the singers entered from various places around the auditorium and made their way through the audience singing ‘Who Will Buy?’

This Made in Colchester production is a collaboration between the Mercury Theatre’s professional production team and Colchester Operatic Society’s cast of amateur performers.  Lest you believe that ‘amateur dramatics’ is theatrical shorthand from second rate, think again.  Director Ryan McBryde admits to having to re-evaluate his understanding of the term.

Personally, I believe that when you do something because you love it rather than for a pay cheque, that love for what you do shows. In the Mercury’s Big Top last night, you could feel that passion in the air.  None more so than with Leanne Field’s rendition of ‘As Long As He Needs Me’. It was top class.

As we left, I overheard a one word description of this show; joyous.  It truly was. An uplifting evening on many levels, not least when you see that this is what a community is capable of when it works together.

I cannot finish without a word about the venue.  You will know that The Mercury Theatre is undergoing a refurbishment and is currently a building site.  Unable or unwilling to simply stop what they do, the team at The Mercury came up with the ingenious idea of creating an 800-seat theatre in a tent on Abbey Fields.  It works, but then what else would you expect from these people?

Oliver! runs until 12th October – treat yourself to a classic show performed by a cast who revel in what they are doing in their spare time!  Click here for tickets.

All images © Pamela Raith