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Interview with Mail O'Donnell, Cinderella

When Mali O’Donnell was growing up in Cardiff, it was a family tradition to go to a panto on Christmas Eve.

Mali O'Donnell headshot. White women with blonde hair and green eyes.

Mali O’Donnell


But the RADA-trained actor admits the last place she wanted to be as the lights dimmed was centre stage, even as other youngsters couldn’t wait to scramble up from the stalls.

Which is ironic, because I’m now a lead in a Christmas show. But no, I was mortified. Considering I’m an actor, I was never one of those kids. Mum and Dad would say ‘oh do it, go and have fun’ and my brother and I were like, no don’t look at me, I’m just here to have a good time – and sweets!

Being able to play a character rather than be herself is a different matter however, and what better role in which to make your Christmas show debut than Cinderella?

Mali appeared in Sam O’Rourke’s Our Town Needs a Nando’s in Liverpool last year and admits what drew her to say yes to spending this season at Storyhouse was speaking to its enthusiastic creative team and also reading, and being excited by, the playwright’s script. She explains:

My character knows her own mind and is very strong, which I think is a different take on Cinderella, and something Sam has done brilliantly.

Different take or not, the show will also have all the elements of panto that audiences love, with a brilliant soundtrack performed live on stage by the versatile actors – look out for this Cinderella wielding a guitar.

There’s a lot that goes in to staging a successful show, from the enchanting sets and costumes (Mali calls designer Jacob Hughes “a visionary”) to perfecting the many song and dance routines, and the cast needs plenty of stamina to deliver two shows a day over the whole festive period.

The only way that you can prepare is just being completely open to whatever is thrown at you and go with it and try it.

Because I think sometimes, we as actors and creative people are quite precious about our work, and I think the ability, especially with something as fun as panto, to let loose and just go – right, I’m going to give it a go, is the joy of it.

Meanwhile she is also looking forward to the fun of a Chester Christmas, and not just because she celebrates her 26th birthday during the run.

While Christmas is a big occasion in the O’Donnell family with three generations gathering on the day itself, this year her mum, dad and younger brother have decided to make the trip from Cardiff for the festive season and join her in the city, although their pet dog is staying with her grandparents.

We start the day off just the four of us, and then it’s usually eleven for Christmas dinner. We all go over to my auntie’s house and cook a dish each; somebody will be on veg, somebody will be on meat, somebody on gravy, pudding.

My dad’s a bit of a quiz meister, as is my uncle, so they alternate each year on creating a quiz for Christmas Day and we all get into teams, everyone puts 5p into a box and then whoever wins the quiz gets the winnings.

But while there may be no competitive quizzing planned in Chester, it seems Mali won’t be facing a festive season without any family fun.

Firstly, she is set to celebrate her 26th birthday during the Cinderella run, with her grandparents making the trip from Cardiff to see her perform on stage.

And then her mum, dad and younger brother – if not the pet dog – will join her in the city for Christmas itself.

So, it’s Chester for Christmas this year,which is quite lovely and different.


Interviewed by Catherine Jones

Find out more and book tickets here.