Patience Ling, Paddy Verstage, Gordon Lee, Peter Westbrook, Jenny Rollings, Bill Kempster, Bruce Emeny, Maurice Barber,
Kevin Brown, Christine and Peter Potter, June Wendon, Olwen Tullet, Sybil Morgan, Mary Killick, Pamela Talbot-Ashby,
Janet Cousins, Dennis Murfitt, Derek Cobbold, Geoffrey Taylor, Val Taylor, Sally Mann, Jack Hacon, Ian Tucker,
Wynn Long, Viv Wheatley, and other volunteers not mentioned.
Oliver Twist is a young boy who lives in a workhouse with other orphaned boys. When Oliver disrupts a meal by
asking for more, he is sold to a local undertaker and his family. They treat Oliver horribly and make him sleep
under the coffins. Oliver escapes and runs off to Paddington Green, where he quickly befriends another young boy,
the Artful Dodger. Dodger takes him to his home, an academy for orphans who learn how to be pick-pockets run by a
kind, yet slightly sinister, old gentleman named Fagin. Oliver is also introduced to Nancy Sikes, a loveable young woman,
and Bet, Nancy's best friend. When Oliver goes on his first pick-pocketing job, he is caught by the police.
The man that Oliver thieved, Mr. Brownlow, learns of Oliver's sad past and brings him into his own home. Meanwhile,
Nancy's husband (the villainous Bill Sikes) worries that Oliver will tell Mr. Brownlow and the police where the thieves
live. He forces Nancy and Bet to snatch Oliver from Mr. Brownlow's house and take him back to Fagin's. Nancy does
everything her husband tells her to but plans on secretly taking Oliver back to Mr. Brownlow. Before she can do so,
Bill finds out of his wife's plans, and murders her. He then goes after Oliver, but is shot and killed. Oliver and
Mr. Brownlow, who turns out to be Oliver's grandfather, return safely home.
From time to time, as I am wont to say, dramatic societies have a rush of blood to the head and,
"recking naught of danger," as Toad might proclaim, plunge into a musical – only to find to the chagrin that the
genre is beyond them in terms of singing and musical resources.
No such problems of regrets here! Dennis Murfitt's lively cast seemingly all had voices of some note and
vigorous sustained attack both on the familiar Lionel Bart numbers and the larger-than-life gallery of
immortal Dickens grotesques and drolls in a gorgeously dressed, cleverly set production that fairly hummed
with zest and vitality.
Valerie Taylor was marvellously full blown as the rat-trap mouthed Widow Corney in what for me was the best
single performance in a evening studded and starred with buoyed-up acting and wove some intricate playing with
Stan West’s splendidly sung, slimline Beadle, while Adrian Rowe carried out the last rites effectively as an
unctuous almost Dracula-like Mr Sowerberry and Vivienne Wheatley was sharply acidulous as his wife.
The director himself, unrecognisable behind the nose-putty and lank hair, set a first rate standard for others
to emulate with his crafty, greasy Fagin and it says volumes for his talents as actor and producer that the
characterisation scarcely suffered in relation to his responsibility for movement, positioning and choreography
of the show as a whole.
Janet Green made a storming fiery Nancy, belting out her songs like a magaphonic music hall act but I wish she had
sought more for the light and shade that is in the part. Nigel Rowe was a truly fearsome Bill Sykes and Kevin Brown
a specious Artful Dodger.
Guy Pollard sang the name part hauntingly and touchingly and acted engagingly as did his real life sister
Alison as Bet and I liked Ed King’s smart-Alec, conceited Noah Claypole.
With no stage, curtains or footlights, the Manifest Theatre Group at Manningtree brings "Oliver" close enough
for the audience to be part of.
This makes Lionel Bart’s heart-rending musical very powerful stuff. The tears are near enough to see and the
sheer evil of Fagin’s lair almost too close.
With the action ranging from the violent and cruel to the tender and occasionally amusing, this kind of theatre
in the round makes an unusual impact.
The singing is full-throated and well-rehearsed with some first-rate personal performances.
The main part is taken by Guy Pollard, a Clacton 13-year old who had already played Amahl in "The Night Visitors"
in professional theatre with great sensitivity.
Guy and his sister Allison, who had solo opportunities as Bet, both have sweet voices.
Denis Murfitt, producer and set designer, makes a superb Fagin, sordid clown of the thieves'
kitchen "Who's Got to Pick a Pocket or Two".
Nigel Rowe gives a fierce portrayal of the sinister Bill Sykes, making a display of terror easy for the
carefully-selected bunch of urchins in Fagin's gang.
Janet Green’s spirited characterisation of Nancy, the passionate and rumbustious beauty from the slums,
makes her star of the show. She has an excellent voice and her growing confidence makes her a valuable
member of this unusual small-town team.
Valerie Taylor shines as Mrs. Bumble and Kevin Brown makes a loveable Artful Dodger.
The 20 children enter into the spirit of the show with great enthusiasm. The excellent effect of the
staging reflects on Bruce Emeny and Maurice Barber of the lighting department and on Patience Ling,
musical director and co-pianist with Paddy Verstage.
What more should one say in praise of the Manifest Theatre Group? To continually applaud its efforts
must surely make the players either conceited or suspicious that the words are not entirely genuine.
But the Manningtree-based group has undoubtedly scored another big success with its production of Oliver,
which opened at the former Legion Hall in South Street on Sunday. This is the group’s sixth production and
all its efforts have received well deserved acclaim. Such is the standing of the group now, that all the tickets
for the play for the play, which continues until tomorrow, were sold within two hours of going on sale. Sunday's
performance was an “extra” to enable the performers' families and friends to see the show.
What a pity there is nowhere larger in the area where the group can stage its production so that more people
could enjoy the work of this talented company. And enjoy is definitely the operative word. For it is the group's
ability in conveying to the audience that everyone of them is thoroughly enjoying what they are doing that adds to
the audiences’ own enjoyment.
Then there is the attention to details of costume and lighting and the way the stagehands set and clear props
quickly and silently in virtual darkness – in all a real team effort. Although not the first musical staged by the
group, this is the first time children have been included in the cast – 21 in all.
There is a saying about not appearing with children or animals and the adults were almost overshadowed by the
youngster – almost but not quite. One of the adult stars was Janet Green as the rather coarse and common Nancy,
a role so completely opposite her own character but one she portrayed quite splendidly.
Producer, director and choreographer Dennis Murfitt recreated Ron Moody's Fagin and gave another of the excellent
performances he has become noted for.
There were also fine performances from Kevin Brown, Nigel Rowe, Vivienne Wheatley, Valerie Taylor and Stan West
as respectively the Artful Dodger, Bill Sykes, Mrs Sowerberry, Widow Corney and Mr Bumble.
This title role was taken by 13-years-old Guy Pollard, whose singing was a feature of the production.
His 12-year-old sister Alison was Bet. Both youngsters are hoping for stage careers and have been acting for
several years, Guy's first show being at the age of 5½ and Alison’s at four. Alison, who auditioned for the new
London stage production of The Sound of Music, reaching the last few out of more than 2,000, has appeared in
professional pantomimes with John Inman and Windsor Davies.