To those who know her, Panto star Fern Roach is probably best known as the ‘Little Miss Billy Whizz’ you see running around The Deco on show nights, fulfilling a multitude of duties, yet taking it all in her stride. From organising the technical side of a show, to selling ice-creams at the interval, if it needed to be done, Fern would do it.
But little did people realise that deep down, 21-year-old Fern nurtured a secret desire to be on the stage performing, rather than being very busy behind the scenes. Or that she had hidden talents as both a singer and an actor. But she did, and she has. And if anyone needed any persuading of her abilities, then the proof was her performance in ‘Cats’, The Deco’s summer youth project, in particular her acclaimed singing of ‘Memory’, the classic song from that show.
“To be honest, I’d always wanted to have a go, right from when I was a young girl,” said Fern, born and raised in Northampton, and whose appearance as the Fairy Godmother in ‘Cinderella’ will be her third Deco Panto, having previously been a dog in ‘Beauty and the Beast’ three years ago, and a mermaid in ‘Peter Pan’ last Christmas. “That said, when I was growing up, horses were my great love; I’ve been riding since I was four, and competed at shows all over the country.
“I still love horses, but after finishing my education, and starting work as a stage-hand with the family business Stage Right, and then working at The Deco in various roles, I started to think that it was something I’d like to do.”
Stage Right is the company that manages and runs The Deco, so Fern was well placed to follow her dream, and if anyone needed proof she could cope under pressure, then she showed those qualities back in 2014, when she took on the duties as deputy stage manager for ‘Wizard of Oz’, and coped admirably.
“I was supposed to be the number two, but the SM had to pull out just days before the First Night, and I was thrown into the thick of the action,” she remembered. “I had no choice but to get on with it, but looking on from the side of the stage, it was then I started to seriously consider performing on it, rather than make things happen off it!
“So I went on an adult Musical Theatre course, which I really enjoyed, and the following year I asked my mum if I could audition for a role in the 2015 Panto ‘Beauty and the Beast’; but she already had a role in mind for me: as Dave The Dog!”
Mum is Jill Roach, house manager at The Deco and co-owner of Stage Right, who has encouraged Fern’s enthusiasm for performing, and who gave her the opportunity to audition for the Mermaid role in ‘Peter Pan’ last year.
“It wasn’t just any audition,” said Fern. “When I told mum I was interested, I had to sing in front of her and dad there and then, in the living room, with no time for any rehearsal!
“Talk about being put on the spot, but happily they were both genuinely impressed and I got the part – and don’t ever think they give me any allowance as proud parents: mum and dad have extremely high standards, and if they hadn’t have thought I was good enough, then I wouldn’t have got the part.”
And anyone who saw Fern’s performance in ‘Cats’ would verify that she is winning her roles on merit. “I really enjoyed that, and this year I’ve done another course in musical theatre, and also courses in acting and dance.”
Little Miss Billy Whizz is now very much Little Miss Showbiz!
“I’m taking this very seriously, and I’m going to work hard, keep auditioning for roles at The Deco and elsewhere, and let’s see where it takes me,” she said. “You can’t help but learn so much by working with top class and experienced performers like Lee Bright, Colin Ridgewell, Chris Wills, Lydia Lucy, Sammy Webb, and Clive Fletcher, as I will be in ‘Cinderella’, so I’m very lucky.
“The most important thing is that I’m loving what I’m doing, and I’m just so excited about being in ‘Cinderella’ – we’ve another terrific show for our audiences.”
Fern will be appearing in ‘Cinderella’ at The Deco between December 7 and 29. Tickets can be booked online: www.thedeco.co.uk, by calling the Box Office on 01604 491005, or from The Deco, in Abington Square, Northampton, between 10am and 4pm Monday to Saturday.