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Interview with Samantha O’Rourke

Cheshire-raised, North Wales-based writer Samantha O’Rourke is developing quite a name for herself both on screen and on stage.

And this Christmas she’s making her Storyhouse debut with a sparky new adaptation of the most popular fairytale of them all.

It turns out the 31-year-old is a big fan of the Hunter Street cultural venue, and particularly of its open-air Shakespeare productions which draw the crowds to Grosvenor Park each summer.

“They’re the complete package for me,” she explains. “I think what they do is so contemporary and energetic and creative, and it feels so fresh. I’ve been raving about them for years!”

Perhaps it’s no surprise then that when she was approached to create a new version of Cinderella, and one directed by Hannah Noone – returning after last year’s The Snow Queen, she leapt at the chance.

Sam and the director became friends when they bonded on X (formerly Twitter) during the Covid lockdown and went on to work together on projects at nearby Theatr Clwyd.

Now they’ve been reunited on Sam’s home turf.

Growing up in Cheshire, she recalls how her life was changed by a childhood trip to see a production of The Sound of Music at Winsford Civic Hall.

She says: “I was three or four, and I remember being filled with jealousy at these children getting to be in this play. I was like, I don’t know what’s happening, but I should be there!

“Then after that I did everything I could, I was in every village hall play or pantomime.”

From about the age of 16 I wanted to be a writer,” she admits. “I thought just a theatre writer because, in a misleading way to be honest, because I had so much access to youth theatre it felt a lot more accessible than TV. TV felt like something that was a million miles away.

In recent years Sam has started to forge twin career paths on stage and screen, working with theatres like Clywd, and the Liverpool Everyman – which commissioned her to write a new play Our Town Needs a Nando’s, premiered last year, and also creating ideas and scripts for television.

Her successes on screen include the Ffilm Cymru/BBC Wales/Mad as Birds off-beat comedy short Jelly, which she also directed, and BAFTA-nominated Mincemeat for Channel 4’s series On The Edge.

While the skillsets needed for stage and screen are completely different, the vision she has and the stories she tells share a common background.

Sam explains: “If there’s something I’m frustrated by, or indignant about or worried about socially or politically, then it’s building a real world around that to get to the meat of it in a way that you don’t feel the politics, you feel the human side of the consequences of politics.

“So even though the outcomes can vary wildly, like a Christmas show or political dramas, for me it does come from the same place.”

And thus to Cinderella, in a new adaptation she hopes will enchant lovers of the traditional fairytale while giving its titular heroine a makeover to ensure that rather being a traditionally rather passive character she becomes the mistress of her own fate.

“Where it started really was just giving Cinderella a proper personality – giving her jokes, and wants and desires and memories, and making her a fully fleshed out person,” says Sam, who is passionate about amplifying strong women’s voices within her work.

“And that naturally has a big ripple effect of making her more interesting, and more complex. So, the end of her journey isn’t just going to be marriage.”

She adds: “I think it’s such a gift when you get a story like that where there are so many iconic things to draw on, and then there are also ways of updating it. I’ve kept key elements but just switched it up a bit.”

Panto fans can expect songs, dances, and “lots of romantic, magical, ethereal moments for the prince and Cinderella” as well as plenty of audience participation. And a few surprising twists.

Sam smiles: “For me, and also Hannah, having done a lot of community and youth work we’re really invested in that experience and making sure that you’re creating maximum joy for an audience.

“It’s really exciting.”

*Cinderella is at Chester Storyhouse from December 1 to January 6. Jelly and Mincemeat are both available to watch on all4.


Book tickets for Cinderella here.