Award-winning director Oliver Brett is no stranger to his musical namesake – having played the title role when The Co-op Juniors Theatre Company staged the Lionel Bart smash at the Ipswich Regent 14 years ago.

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“It’s like revisiting an old friend,” laughs the 24-year-old, whose recent production of Cats for the company won the east region awards for best youth production and best production from the National Operatic and Dramatic Association.

“I know the show so well but wanted to give it a fresh approach, to take it apart and give it a new energy and style. After the success of Cats at the New Wolsey last year, which had a young cast, we wanted to take on a musical which offered roles for members of the Co-op Juniors Theatre Company in their 20s.”

He’s not the only cast member with a link to the 2000 show.

Lucy Allen, Chris Evans, Stephen Skrypec, Luke Cattermole, Rachel Lucock, Thomas Haigh, Charlotte Bourne, Lizzie Tyte and Sophie Allen all appeared first time around.

“The difference is they’re now playing principal roles, not workhouse children or Fagin’s thieves,” he laughs.

From the workhouse to a job in a funeral parlour, little Oliver has a tough existence until he runs away to London where he meets the Artful Dodger and is introduced to the thieving world of Fagin and Bill Sykes. Only Nancy has a soft spot for him, until events overtake them all.

Fagin’s Pick a Pocket or Two, Consider Yourself, Who Will Buy?, Food Glorious Food, Where Is Love? and the title song leave little time for audiences to take a breath as the orphan’s tale unfolds.

“It has all the wonderful characters created by Dickens, led by Fagin, Nancy, Bill Sykes, Oliver Twist and the Artful Dodger, with Lionel Bart’s remarkable music and lyrics to drive the show along,” says Brett, who has been busy working with Disney in Paris and Tokyo.

He’s keeping his eye on every aspect of the show from the music, set and costumes to lighting, props and sound.

“Ultimately it’s all about storytelling,” he says. “We have strong characters and great music and we’ve added the passion and energy of our cast to make it what we hope will be a huge success.”

The 50-strong cast and crew have spent a long time rehearsing at a huge studio in Ipswich provided by the East of England Co-op. They needed the space, with the full stage set towering five metres into the air; allowing the cast to work across two levels which represent the stage, bridge and galleries of the New Wolsey.

“We’re so lucky to have this space. We’ve been rehearsing on the full set from day one, which gives the cast a unique opportunity to make the most of the space at every level.”

Oliver! by The Co-op Juniors Theatre Company, runs at Ipswich’s New Wolsey Theatre from June 25-28.

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