By Paul T Davies

Oliver! Mercury at Abbey Field, Colchester. Until October 12. 01206 573948.

Well, here is something really special.

While the Mercury Theatre is undergoing it’s redevelopment, Team Mercury refuse to lay idle for a year, but take on the challenge of performing in pop up venues throughout the town. Welcome then to the Big Top at Abbey Field, an 800 seat auditorium and a co-production with the Mercury Theatre and Colchester Operatic Society.

Creative Director Ryan McBride has signalled his intention to work with local community groups, and the gamble pays off in this wonderful production of Lionel Bart’s timeless musical. The creative team are professionals, and everyone on stage is amateur, but we are going to have to redefine that word amateur.

The cast are, quite rightly, having the time of their lives and embracing the experience. Too often in this musical, Oliver himself is over shadowed by the other, strong, characters.

It happens in the film as Ron Moody sweeps away all before him. Not here, as young Archie Ball is perfect as Oliver, he will break your heart, is utterly adorable and sings beautifully.

All the principal roles are perfectly cast, with Leanne Field knocking it out of the park as Nancy, belting out those numbers with ease, Adam Woodhouse a convincing, sinister yet loveable Fagin, and Joss-Paul Miller is spot on as the Artful Dodger.

Wayne Setford is wonderfully evil as Bill Sykes, saying much with stillness and threatening looks, and Sally Fisher and Stuart Williams are supremely sour as the Sowerberrys.

And all this before you add the terrific ensemble, and those set pieces, including Consider Yourself and Oom-Pah-Pah raising the tent roof. But my favourite song of the night was Who Will Buy, with the cast entering through the auditorium and sending shivers up your spine with the most beautiful harmonies.

The direction by Ryan McBryde embraces the company and the audience, and the choreography by Charlie Morgan is superb, filling the stage with movement that projects out to every seat. Special mention must also go to the superb lighting design by Tim Deiling, and the band, under Musical Director Greg Arrowsmith, keeping the pace of the show running perfectly.

There are a few issues with the venue itself in terms of sightlines and, because I am very tall, comfort, but this is a learning curve for everyone at the moment.

However, Mercury Theatre and Colchester Operatic, consider yourself a huge hit.