AS a casino marketing manager, John Harland is used to counting up piles of cash – but he’ll be clinking coins of more ill-gotten gains when he takes to the stage to play money-loving Fagin in a charity production of Oliver! at the Towngate Theatre tonight.

The charity event will run tonight and tomorrow at the Basildon theatre and raise funds for local charities, Basildon Woman’s Aid and la Danse Fantastique.

It has been organised by Actz Entertainment, with many of the stars on their roster taking on roles in the production.

“First of all it’s a fundraiser,” explained Lewis Simmons, joint owner of the agency, who’s also Mr Bumble in the show.

“La Danse Fantastique is a performance school really. A theatre school for children, young people and, even adults, who’ve got disabilities. They are in the performance – there are children with Downs syndrome and autism, which is great. Lots of entertainers who work on the cabaret circuit are also giving their time for free.”

The well-known story, based on Charles Dicken’s Oliver Twist, features songs including Consider Yourself, As Long as He Needs Me and You’ve Got To Pick a Pocket or Two. Lewis can’t wait for the curtain to go up on the classic family show which he has a particular soft spot for.

“I was in Oliver! when I was 12-years-old at the Towngate with Basildon Operatic Society,” he explained. “Then, when I was 13 I was in it at the London Palladium. I’ve also done it twice as an adult.”

Despite it being an audience favourite, Lewis admits he needs to sell a few more tickets to make a profit to hand to the worthy charities, so he’s urging more people to come and see the show.

Oliver! at the Towngate Theatre, St Martin’s Square, Basildon, today and tomorrow, 7.30pm, £10, 01268 270066.