HOW’S this for a Cinderella story? Just a few weeks ago, Julie Heatherill was preparing to understudy Amiera Darwish in the Royal Lyceum’s festive production of, you guessed it, Cinderella. Then the leading lady was forced to pull out after contracting tonsillitis and, quick as a wave of a magic wand, Heatherill was thrust into the spotlight.
“It really is a fairytale,” says the Corstorphine-born actress. “Being an Edinburgh girl, I’d always dreamed one day I’d play the lead in as big a production as this in my home town.”
This time last year, Heatherill was starring as Princess Thistle Blossom in the Brunton Theatre’s Aladdin. It was her fifth straight Musselburgh panto, having previously appeared in Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Sinbad and Mother Goose.
Each time she has played the heroine and each time she has earned heaps of acclaim. And none more than last year, when renowned theatre critic Joyce McMillan described her as “by far the finest female lead in all of Scottish panto”.
“The experience I gained from the Brunton is priceless,” says the 27-year-old. “I had the opportunity to work with many talented casts and a talented director. It’s served me well.”
Cinderella is only a few shows into its run, but already audiences are giving it the thumbs up.
“We’ve done some school shows and the reaction has been fantastic,” enthuses Heatherill. “There have been lots of smiling faces leaving the theatre at the end, which is a good sign.”
The production is a new version of the fairytale, written by Johnny McKnight and directed by Mark Thomson with original songs by Alan Penman.
Heatherill explains, “The story has been relocated to modern-day Paris. Cinderella is living happily with her father (Grant O’Rourke), but that changes when sisters Collete and Camille (Nicola Roy and Jo Freer) turn up with their scary mother (Jayne McKenna).
“I don’t want to spoil it by giving too much away, but the script is fantastic and there are some great songs.
“It’s a different version, but there are still many elements of the classic Grimms’ version.”
Heatherill, who studied at Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, already has plenty of acting credits to her name and soap fans may recognise her from a stint in River City this year.
“I played Nurse Maguire, who was looking after Deek in hospital,” she says. “We all know how that turned out!”
The actress says it was fun doing a bit of telly for a change, but prefers being in front of a live audience.
“I enjoyed it, but it’s a different thing entirely,” she says. “With theatre there’s that live audience element which really gets your adrenaline going. There’s nothing like that buzz.”
Cinderella, Royal Lyceum, Grindlay Street, until December 29, various times and prices, 0131-248 4848