Rachel O'Riordan may have only taken up her post as creative director for theatre of Horsecross Arts at Perth Theatre two months ago, but, swishing into the building's foyer on a Thursday afternoon, she already looks like she owns the place.

Indeed, as O’Riordan announces details of her first season at the venue, that demeanour is justifiable. Because, with this dynamic thirty-something Irish woman at the helm, what is regarded as one of Scotland’s more traditionally-minded theatres might just about to undergo a very quiet revolution.

Not that O’Riordan doesn’t have a commercial track record, even if her best known works with Ransom, the company she co-founded to produce her actor husband Richard Dormer’s play about snooker player Alex Higgins, Hurricane, and the decidedly odd The Gentleman’s Tea Drinking Society, are studio pieces. One should bear in mind too, however, that while Hurricane began life in an 80-seat venue before becoming an Edinburgh Festival Fringe smash hit, Ransom’s recent remount of the show played at Belfast Opera House to 1200 people a night. O’Riordan has also directed at the Lyric in Belfast, and the Theatre Royal in Bath. For the last two months, however, O’Riordan has been keeping a very low profile.

“I’ve been living like some cloistered nun until the season finished,” she says, able at last to meet and greet the media. “But it’s a big appointment for Horsecross. This is the first time there’s been a full-time artistic director for many years, and I’m starting a journey here.

“I’m not saying Perth will ever be the right place to do The Gentlemen’s Tea-Drinking Society, but we are building a new studio, where we’ll be working with younger artists to do work of that kind. For me, the important thing is that there needs to be a space to take risks in any theatre, and we’re halfway there to making that happen. I think that’s part of the reason I was appointed, to have that kind of vision, where I’m comfortable in directing plays from the classic canon on the main stage, but where I’m not scared of working with new writers and bringing them on. I’d heard of Perth Rep, but I was more interested in where the place is going. That’s what’s exciting.”

O’Riordan’s opening production for her inaugural autumn season will be Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. With Andrew Panton taking the helm of Christmas show, Jack and The Beanstalk, February 2012 will see O’Riordan direct Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me, Frank McGuinness’s dramatisation of Brian Keenan’s four- year incarceration as a hostage in Beirut, where he and fellow prisoner John McCarthy were in the main kept blindfolded by their Islamic Jihad captors. Light relief will come in March in the form of Moonlight and Magnolias, Ron Hutchinson’s comic re-imagining of how Gone With The Wind producer David O Selznick and director Victor Fleming brought in script doctor Ben Hecht to breathe some life into what was shaping up to be the greatest turkey ever made.

Riordan’s own appointment, however, suggests the play itself shouldn’t suffer the same fate.

While all three plays look on paper at least solidly commercial products ripe for the sort of stylistic reinvention O’Riordan is more than well versed in, what, one wonders, first attracted her to the Perth job? While steeped in its own colourful history, the theatre’s geographical position outwith the central belt runs the risk of leaving ambitious incomers like O’Riordan out of the country’s creative loop. Not, it seems, if O’Riordan has her way.

“I’m all about partnerships,” she says, “both in this role and in Ransom. We co-produced with big players like Paines Plough and Soho Theatre, and I’m confident we can bring that co-producing ethos here, both with companies in Scotland and beyond. I’m already having talks with the Lyric, Belfast, and I would hope we can work with the likes of the National Theatre of Scotland, or the Traverse or the Citizens or the Tron. For the next few months I’m just going to get out there, see as much work as possible, and meet everyone.”

Cork-born O’Riordan began her career as a dancer. After training at the Royal Ballet School, she also worked as a choreographer. These skills were utilised on the physically driven Hurricane, which was, remarkably, the first professional stage play she she’d ever directed.

As calling cards go, it was pretty spectacular. During the production’s London run, word of mouth attracted no less a personage than Sir Peter Hall to see what all the fuss was about. Hall wrote to O’Riordan, and offered her Miss Julie, with Andrea Riseborough playing the lead.

In the intervening eight years, O’Riordan has notched up a large and impressive body of work, including the Glass Menagerie at the Lyric, Belfast and Grimm Tales at Manchester’s Library Theatre. She has umpteen awards nominations, and in 2010 scooped Best Director award for Absolution in the First Irish Theatre Awards in New York.

“For me it feels like I’ve been doing it forever,” O’Riordan admits, “but looking at other people’s career paths I know that’s not true. I’ hadn’t directed until I was 28 or 29, so once I started I thought I’d better crack on. But I wasn’t in the system. I’d never assistant-directed or gone to Cambridge, so I suppose I just did my own thing and made my own path. I started with instinct and took it from there.”

As well as Hurricane and The Gentlemen’s Tea-Drinking Society, other work by O’Riordan seen in Scotland includes Protestants, and the Irish famine-based This Piece of Earth. More recently, O’Riordan directed Arguments For Terrorism at Oran Mor. Ransom also appointed actor/writer David Ireland, who has worked extensively in Scotland, as writer in residence. While O’Riordan will step down from the helm of Ransom now that she’s in Perth, she will remain on its advisory board.

“I began Ransom when I was 30,” she says, “and I think it would be a shame if the company closed just because I left, but there comes a time when you have to move on and let someone else take over and put a brand new sense of energy into it.”

This is a notion that could equally apply to O’Riordan’s own arrival in Perth. Again she points to the theatre’s refurbishment as a bold new start for the theatre. What, though, does O’Riordan think the regular Perth audience will make of her?

“That’s the big question,” she says, “but in a way it doesn’t matter what they think of me. What matters is what they think of what I make.

“My ambition is to make friends with the audience in a robust way where you can have a laugh with them, but you can also tell each other the truth. That’s the kind of relationship I want here, and the first season is a step towards that.

“I don’t ever think I know better than my audience. I’m passionate about the relationship between an actor and an audience. That dynamic never stops fascinating me, and if I’m not masking that bridge, then I’m not doing my job probably. It can’t just be about my artistic vision. The audience has to trust you, but just as importantly, we have to trust our audience.”

More details of Perth Theatre’s 2011/12 season will be announced shortly. Twelfth Night runs from September 28-October 15.