Free Time

Peterborough’s fairy godmother is home for Christmas!

The Cresset Pantomime

Cheryl Fergison became a household favourite as loveable Heather in EastEnders between 2005 and 2016, but had already built a successful career as a classically-trained stage actor, appearing in plays by Strindberg and Brecht, with the Royal Shakespeare Company – and, of course, in panto! We chatted to Cheryl about her return to the boards in this year’s Cresset pantomime, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the happy childhood she spent right here in Peterborough.

First of all – how’s it going, preparing for panto? It’s such an intense time of year for any cast and crew who are staging one!
I’m busy learning my lines! I’m one of these people who likes to get that done early, so when I actually go into rehearsals I can have fun with it. I don’t want the script in front of me, I just want to be able to play with the other actors and build my character, learn all the songs and routines, using whatever time we have – which never seems that long! – to really pull the panto together. And it does always end up brilliant in the end!

Cheryl FergisonYou’ve got more on your plate than usual, because this year you’re playing two characters.
I’m playing Good Witch Glinda, but I’m also playing Aunty Em. I’m giving them two different accents, which is fun – a southern American twang for Aunty Em and light, soft English accent for Glinda. But I’m loving having plenty to do, especially at this time of the year – it’s so easy when the nights draw in to go into hibernation, going out in the evenings takes effort, but once panto gets going that all changes. I get to be with what I call my ‘panto family’ and it’s so nice being part of the audience’s Christmas – I love seeing their faces and being part of the memories they’re making. The cast and crew all make it a very jolly, happy time – people put up lights and Christmas trees in their dressing rooms, and there’s always a bit of magic sparkle behind the scenes as well as all the hard work that goes on in front of the curtain. It’s a fun time, and I really, really enjoy it.

The fact you’re back on home turf must be an added bonus!
I grew up in Peterborough, so really, I’m coming home – and actually The Cresset is the place I used to do all my netball and hockey tournaments! I lived in Bretton, so I’m sure the audiences will be filled with people I went to school with, their children and grandchildren, and that’s something I’m particularly looking forward to. When I came up to the panto launch I had a
little look around the town, checked out the places I remember. I used to busk in the Cathedral square – I think I was the first lady busker in Peterborough! – and I saved all my money from busking to buy a saxophone. That was the start of me getting into music and now I play all kinds of different musical instruments. Back then, I lived on one of the new housing estates with my family – we’d moved up from London and Peterborough felt very safe, and it also made me who I am – all the stuff I do now is because of the schools I went to here and the teachers who taught me, particularly my drama teacher.

Cresset PantomimeDoes it feel as though things have changed much?
I came with my son, who is 24 now – he’s an actor and he’s a writer. I brought him with me to show him my old stomping ground as well as proudly showing him off to everyone. Peterborough wasn’t quite as diverse when I was here, and my son is mixed race – my husband’s a different nationality – but when I was here a few weeks ago I just thought, ‘This is great!’ I went to a school where there were lots of different nationalities but it didn’t represent the whole of the city at the time, but now it seems to be very integrated.

What will you be looking forward to most about being back, and being at The Cresset?
What I like is being able to communicate with people, with an audience, and the part of Glinda the Good Witch is great to have in a piece for small children – my character is there to reassure the little ones that everything they’re going to see will be ok, that ‘good’ will triumph over ‘evil’ and that even if it feels scary, this is a safe place to have a great time. I feel like many of them missed out so much during Covid, and that there’s so much pressure on them nowadays that doesn’t always help them know what’s right for them and what is wrong. But being in an environment where they’re sharing a great experience, live, with a whole load of other people having fun, it’s really positive. It’s why I had such a lovely time playing Heather in EastEnders, because my relationship with Shirley was generally lovely – it did have some really heavy moments, but then there was always a lightness, which is what life’s all about.

Cresset PantomimeMaybe there will be a young person in the audience who’ll get bitten by the theatre bug, like you did when you were a child in Peterborough!
I would love that. I think The Cresset should make a book of people who have performed here over the years, so young audience members can look at it and think, ‘You know what? One day I’ll be back here’. I think that’s why I jumped at the chance when I got offered panto here this year, because it’s been such an important part of my life – I’m not going to have my son with me like I normally do at Christmas, and my husband is Moroccan so he’s currently over there helping out after the earthquake they suffered back in September. But I will have my panto family around me, and I’ve got my hometown, so it feels like I’m being hugged. I’m really looking forward to it all – it’s gonna be great!

To find out more about this year’s pantomime at The Cresset, to book tickets and to see the amazing trailer the cast and crew have put together (including Cheryl!) head to

To book tickets, call the Box Office on 01733 265705.

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