RACHEL O’Riordan always knew that Cinderella would be the last show at Perth Theatre before it shut down for a two-year refurbishment. That was why, when she commissioned playwright Alan McHugh, she asked him to set the classic fairy story not in a stately home but in a theatre.
It means Cressida, the evil stepmother, is now a reckless manager running her theatre into the ground, while Buttons is employed front-of-house as an ice-cream seller.
“I wanted to reference the fact that we were closing our doors,” she says. “I wanted to remind our audience they were in their local theatre and they’ll need to come back to it. Cinderella is also about transformation, and the transformation of the theatre is another reason I chose to do it now.”
What O’Riordan couldn’t have foreseen, however, was that Cinderella would mark the end of her own three-year reign in Perth, a tenure that has earned her considerable acclaim, not least in the annual Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland. Come February, she’ll be packing her bags for Cardiff, where she is to take over the Sherman Cymru theatre.
It means this farewell pantomime will have a special resonance for her. “I love this theatre and I’ve had three brilliant years here,” she says. “The fact I’m going means it does feel particularly on the nose and poignant.”
She’ll be sorry to go, but she’s proud of what she’s achieved. “I’ve done some of the best work I’ve ever done in my life on this stage,” says the director, whose hits have included the hostage drama Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me and the supernatural soul-searching of The Seafarer.
With Cinderella, she’ll be bowing out on a lighter note. The rags-to-riches story comes with all the requisite songs, dance routines and panto paraphernalia as Helen McKay takes on the title role, while Barrie Hunter and Michael Moreland play the Ugly Sisters. And, after O’Riordan’s recent male-dominated Macbeth, it’s a chance for her to explore her feminine side.
“It’s an archetypal story about young women and finding strength,” she says. “With the evil stepmother and fairy godmother characters, Alan McHugh has done something really interesting about women and power.
“I’m quite sympathetic towards Cressida and her desperate desire to survive! Then you’ve got this other kind of power that comes from the fairy godmother who is entirely altruistic, but nobody’s fool either. They are fabulous counterpoints to each other.”
• Cinderella, Perth Theatre, 6 December until 4 January. For further details, please visit www.horsecross.co.uk