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Rachel O'Riodan - Perth Theatre's 2012/13 Season


There’s a window built into the roof of Perth Theatre’s brightly lit 
bar that won't open. This bothers Rachel O’Riordan, and has done so 
ever since the Irish-born creative director for theatre at Horsecross 
Arts first arrived in Perth to breathe fresh life into one of 
Scotland’s most important rep institutions a year ago. For all the 
energy that goes on in the building, it seems, that window retains its 
somewhat stifling presence.

While there's little to be done about that window until the theatre's 
planned renovation takes place over the next three years, it hasn't 
prevented O'Riordan from turning the place as it currently exists 
upside down in an artistic sense at least. In her first season, 
O'Riordan's back to back productions of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, 
Frank McGuinness' hostage drama, Someone Who'll Watch Over Me and Ron 
Hutchinson's Hollywood romp, Moonlight and Magnolias, stacked up to 
make an impressive calling card. While on the surface these were tried 
and tested works, each production, in very different ways, mined 
elements of comedy and tragedy in a stylistically distinctive 
twenty-first century manner.

O'Riordan also hooked up with A Play, A Pie and A Pint to present a new 
lunchtime play in the bar, Cold Turkey, by Perth 
writer, Ben Tagoe, and brought the National Theatre of Scotland's 
production of Men Should Weep to Perth as part of the theatre's 
visiting programme.

The announcement of O'Riordan's second season, exclusively revealed in 
the Herald today alongside plans for Perth Theatre's future, shows off 
even more of the directors ambitions for Perth as a major producing 
house. This year O'Riordan will direct all four in-house productions, 
including Christmas show, Mother Goose. The other three will feature 
work by contemporary writers, including a major coup in co-production 
with the Lyric Theatre, Belfast.

Opening the season will be The Odd Couple, Neil Simon's New York comedy 
about two very different room-mates. It will finish with April in 
Paris, John Godber's look at an elderly northern English couple who win 
a French holiday. With Aberdeen Touring Arts' new staging of Robin 
Jenkins' novel, The Cone Gatherers, touring to Perth in the Autumn 
prior to Mother Goose, 2013 will begin in earnest with The Seafarers, 
by author of The Weir, Conor McPherson. First seen in 2006 at the 
National Theatre in London, McPherson's quasi-supernatural yarn set 
around a game of poker went on to become a hit on Broadway. O'Riordan's 
new production will not only be the play's Scots premiere, but its 
transfer to the Lyric will mark its first appearance in Northern 
Ireland as well.

“The main objective with this new season is to put on exquisite writing 
by great playwrights,” O'Riordan enthuses. “They're all so different, 
but The Seafarer is my baby. I've wanted to direct it for years. It's 
an extraordinary play about alcoholism, the Devil and redemption, and 
it's the most extraordinarily moving and intelligent piece of writing 
about the human condition I've read for years.

“By the same token,” O'Riordan continues, “Neil Simon is a very 
different but equally exquisite playwright. If you look at Frasier or 
Friends, they're all in a direct line from Simon's work. But in light 
of recent discussions on blogs about female casting, we're doing the 
female version. This allows six strong female actors to really get 
their teeth into comic roles in a way that they don't always get to do 
so.”

By her own admission, April in Paris wasn't on O'Riordan's wish-list of 
plays to do. When she read it, however, she discovered that “it really 
taps into this idea that we're all supposed to be socially mobile, yet 
all this couple discover once they get back from Paris is that it'll 
never happen again. In a time of recession, it's an important play that 
exposes that lie in a warm and human way that's full of heart.”

If all bodes well, there will also be another co-production with A 
Play, A Pie and A Pint featuring a brand new work by Frank McGuinness. 
In the longer term, O'Riordan is in development to produce a major 
site-specific piece set to take place at Perth railway station, which 
was one of the main assembly points for soldiers during the second 
world war. She also has her sights set on a large-scale community 
production, and once the new Perth Theatre building opens in 2015, 
O'Riordan aims to bring in young writers and directors to develop work 
in the new studio space.

“I feel incredibly positive,” she says. “We are lucky that we have an 
audience that is educated, literate and committed. My challenge is to 
keep on refreshing that. Doing a play in the bar was an unknown 
quantity, especially as it was a comedy about heroin addiction, but it 
went down a storm and sold out. So there is an audience here who are 
willing to take a risk more than they're sometimes given credit for. I 
think once the audience trust me enough to realise that everything I'm 
doing is for them, then that allows them to feel like they can take a 
punt now and then. Having said that, there is no point in doing what we 
do to nobody. It would be foolish and arrogant to programme something 
nobody wanted to see just because I fancied directing it.”

O'Riordan's desire to connect with her audience goes further.

“I  want people to feel something,” she says. “I don't mean that 
metaphorically. I really want people to come out of that theatre 
affected in some way. I really want the work we do to reach out 
emotionally.”

Beyond the plans she's already set down, O'Riordan is exploring further 
collaborations, and is in preliminary talks with Dundee Rep, the Royal 
Lyceum in Edinburgh, and an as yet un-named company in New York.

“I go looking for partnerships,” she says, “but it takes two, and 
people can say no. But everyone knows these are tricky times 
financially, so no-one can afford to stay in any kind of ivory tower 
anymore. I'm continually surprised by the resilience and the spirit of 
the theatre scene here in Scotland. There's so much going on here, and 
its very collegiate in terms of people supporting each other.”

In terms of Perth itself, O'Riordan has got off to a flying start, and, 
on paper, at least, her plans for the future promise much for the 
audience she so clearly respects. Despite the fickle nature of 
ambitious theatre directors, she also sounds like she's in it for the 
long haul.

“We have work to do here,” O'Riordan says, “but that work has started, 
and achieving what we did in that first season was quite exciting. I'm 
immersed in my role now, which took a while. It's interesting how long 
it takes to fully inhabit a role. If the first season seemed like 
rehearsals and previews, then this new season feels like I'm in a run. 
It's nice not to be the new girl anymore, ” she says, eyeing up the 
window that may yet be forced open.

Tickets for Perth Theatre’s new season go on sale to the public on July 
24th. Season ticket subscribers can book their preferred seats now.
www.horsecross.co.uk

The Herald, July 17th 2012

ends

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