CONSIDER yourself one of the lucky ones if you saw Stage '65's excellent and exuberant production of Lionel Bart's popular musical in the main house last week.

Credit must go in part to Ben Occhipinti's inspirational direction. His choreography ensured there was never an urchin or pick-pocketer out of place whether in the big set pieces such as Food, Glorious Food and I'd Do Anything or the simply stunning Who Will Buy, sung in four-part harmony with chilling effect.

Each and every performer (and there were more than 50 of them on stage, and another 15 members of the youth theatre backstage) performed their heart out, from the ensemble's cracking opening number to Fagin's reprise.

Oliver! was a good choice for the young cast, providing a platform for both singing and acting talents and bringing to life some wonderful Dickensian characters. Oliver Mallam gave Fagin some lovely touches from his wicked glare at the sight of hidden booty to his utterly memorable rendition of Reviewing the Situation.

Holly Jasper gave tragic Nancy a huge personality and her heartbreaking song, As Long As He Needs Me was given a new lease of life with Rob Hiley's broodingly-dark improvised accompaniment.

Oliver Smart, 13, has a beautiful voice and was perfectly cast as Oliver. His heartrending solo, Where Is Love? showed maturity beyond his years. Charlie Liddington was a suitably cheeky Artful Dodger and Florence Taylor-Jones was perfectly odious and louche as one half of the Sowerberry sisters - a great character study.

As music director, Rob Hiley must get a special mention, his improvisations a contributory factor to the success of this production, complemented by Karen McKeown's atmospheric set design depicting Victorian London's darker side in all its gloom and grime.

The sheer joy of performing on the faces of everyone that took part was self-evident. Congratulations to all involved.

- Anne Morris