Saturday, 21 October 2017

Theatre Interview: Cheryl Fergison & David Heath - "You Come Out Of This Show With A Feel-Good Factor"

Image Source: Bill Elms
Written By: Mark Armstrong

The Wizard Of Oz is a timeless classic of a story, which celebrates its 80th anniversary in 2019. Before that, though, Dorothy and company are coming to life on the stage in an exciting pantomime for all of the family to enjoy. The show heads to the Epstein Theatre in Liverpool next weekend, but before then, we spoke to two of the stars from this production, Cheryl Fergison and David Heath, on their characters, their careers and their futures!

First of all, tell us about your characters in The Wizard Of Oz.

Cheryl Fergison: I'm playing the Wicked Witch Of The West, which I thoroughly enjoy because, since Heather Trott was such a nice character in EastEnders, it's really good to be playing a baddie and making lots of children cry for a little bit! (Laughs) It's a great part, and I get to be quite nasty in a cheeky kind of way, so I like that.

David Heath: I get to play the lovable Scarecrow. So, I'm Dorothy's first friend that she gets to meet. He's quite funny, quite dozy, and I love the character; I can act silly and not be serious, so that's good! (Laughs)

What previous pantomime and theatre experience do the two of you have?

Cheryl: This will be my third time working on this particular show. I only come back to shows that I really enjoy doing. I'm also about to do a panto in Carlisle; I've been doing panto for the last few years since I left Eastenders. But I do a lot of shows; I'm touring on a show called Menopause: The Musical next year, which I've been touring on for the last couple of years as well. So, there's a lot of theatre for me at the moment; I've done the odd bits of telly, but it's mainly theatre for me right now.

David: I've done pantomime myself, firstly as a dancer, and then I went on to playing different characters. It's nice to be playing the Scarecrow this time because I'm usually always the Prince, so I get to act a bit different and a bit sillier than in the Prince role. So, I do a lot of pantomimes. I've got one at Christmas also, but this one is just brilliant and magical for the whole family. There's a lot of things going on; they've got fire, pyrotechnics, glitter and everything. It's a great pantomime to be in; it's fun as well, with lots of new songs. It's really good, and it's got a real dog as well.

Cheryl: It's a great show, it's very modern, it's good for the families, and also it's a chance to be a bit nasty to make some of the young people cry. Chantelle Nolan, the producer of the show, slotted in loads of stuff that's gonna be great for the younger ones. There's UV scenes, there's puppets, and that kinds of brings it back round for the ones who may cry, to realise that nothing is as scary as it seems. It's a lot of fun, it's a really fun show. It's definitely the one thing that people should see during half-term in one of the three venues.

David: There's also some great talent including singers and actors. The kids will know all of the different songs; it's just a fantastic production to be honest.

Cheryl, how did you land the part of Heather Trott in EastEnders back in 2007?

Cheryl: I was in EastEnders two years previously playing Heather. You can't go into the show again until two years later, and the story was that I'd been in prison with Kat Slater for a couple of episodes. So, two years later, they wrote the part of Heather, and the casting person there (Julia Crampsie) said "I know somebody who could do this." So, they offered it to me first, I went in and read for the part. I thought other people were going to come in and read for it, but luckily I got it. I was only meant to be in it for about five episodes, or something like that, but then five years later I was still in it! So, it was brilliant. I loved it.

You've also appeared on many other television shows over the last ten years. what have been some of the highlights of this part of your career?

Cheryl: I would say that every show that I could participate in was a highlight for me, because it means that you're working, which is very, very good! (Laughs) That's always good for an actor. I've worked for some amazing people, and I'm still learning. I love going into new places within theatre and television and learning from all my peers, and even from the younger performers. It's what keeps me going. I've had a lot of highlights; EastEnders is obviously the main highlight. But I always say that my career highlights are still yet to come.

David: I think it was meeting me!

Cheryl: Yeah, it was meeting you! (Laughs)

David, you made your name as a member of Eton Road on the first series of The X Factor. How was this experience, and was there more pressure given that, despite knowing each other for a long time, the group had only officially formed a few days in advance?

David: Yeah, there was a lot of pressure at the time, but we absolutely loved the experience. I was only young at the time, so I wish that I knew then what I know now. But the whole experience was just absolutely fantastic. We got to be on TV every weekend with our best friends and to perform on the live shows. Then, we got to do The X Factor arena tour straight afterwards, which was an unreal experience to be touring the country in every arena, and I got to present it as well, so it was just surreal. I couldn't believe that I'd just come out of college and went straight into all of that.

Your career has taken on different directions since then, and you are currently running a dance school named Attitude Dance. When did this begin, and what does your work involve?

David: I'd trained in a musical theatre course in college, and I got my teaching qualification there, but obviously I went straight onto TV and I didn't get to use it. So, once I'd done all of the things that came from it, I thought that I wanted to come back to my hometown and I wanted to perform. I wanted to give what I've learned to the children in my local area, and to get them off the streets. Where I live in Bootle had received such a bad name around it, so I wanted to show that there was good about the area. There's good talent there, there's good people there, so I decided to open a dance school. I've been running it for seven years now, and we teach all different styles including commercial, street, lyrical and ballet, and for the whole family we have fitness classes for all ages. The youngest kid that we have is 4, and the oldest lady that we have is 65.

What are the future plans for you both?

David: I'd love to keep performing; I love to perform, hence why I'm in The Wizard Of Oz. I also want to make my dancing school as big as possible, as well as to hopefully open a college in the future, and to move it onto the next generation in that way.

Cheryl: Just to keep getting work, that's the plan! (Laughs) Seriously, I am moving up to the North-West from London very soon, so I may keep an eye out for Corrie or Emmerdale, or maybe I could be a Hollyoaks babe, I don't know! (Laughs)

Finally, why should the Liverpool audience come to see The Wizard Of Oz?

David: I've brought my little niece to come and watch it. She came as Dorothy, and she was so amazed at the glitz and the fireworks. She's only two, and she never stopped staring at the stage, the fire, the fireworks, the colour, and she loved the music. Plus, as I mentioned, there's a real dog on stage, and the characters are so true to how they should be based on those playing them; Cheryl was so involved with her Witch character. So, I think that the show is just so magical, and it's supporting a Liverpool-run company as well.

Cheryl: I think it's one of those shows where you come out with that feel-good factor. You can come with your family, or you could come on your own. It is meant for everybody, and there's something in it for everyone, so everybody will identify with it, and the story is fantastic. So I think it's something that you must come and see; come out of your home, come away from the television, and just have a great memory with your family or your friends.

The Wizard Of Oz runs at The Epstein Theatre from Friday October 27 to Sunday October 29. To book your tickets, click here.