EVEN for a theatre director, Lu Kemp’s revelation that one of the best things that ever happened to her was almost killing an old man is up there on the list of the most dramatic - and grabbing – interview confessions ever.

“I knocked the old man down when I was on my bike,” she recalls, sipping tea in Perth theatre’s shiny new café area. “I had been cycling back from the swimming pool, it was a really dark, rainy night on Argyle Street and the lights changed to green and this old man wasn’t looking and he stepped out.”

Kemp hit him full on. And he went down. An ambulance was called and the old man taken to hospital. Lu Kemp wasn’t injured but confused. She then spent the rest of the night calling around hospitals trying to locate the injured old fella. “I discovered he was 82 and his name was James McCallum.” She smiles; “And while it wasn’t a great way to meet, it was the start of a great friendship.”

The pair became very close over the next seven years until James passed away. “It was brilliant,” she says of the relationship. “He met my family. And I learned he’d grown up in a single end in the East End of Glasgow, one of ten kids, all dumped into the one bed on a Saturday night so’s the parents could have sex. He was a great raconteur, he did so many different jobs, and I learned so much from him. He came to see some of the shows I worked on.”

The meet is to talk about Lu Kemp’s new spring season at Perth Theatre but this off-the-scale unreal story in reality offers an indicator of the personality and the intent behind the programme.

Kemp’s compassion is evident; but the tale also suggests a natural empathy. Kemp, she reveals later, grew up in a privileged home in Watford with a surgeon father and a physio father. Yet her connection with a Glaswegian East Ender underlines inclusiveness.

But more relevantly, the unusual friendship indicates a searching, a curiosity to understand worlds she knows little of – which allows for her to connect with what others want?

“I hope so,” says Kemp of her new season plans. She admits she’s “gone a bit populist” with the likes of The Importance of Being Ernest. “It’s a play that plays fast and loose with the truth, and that feels fairly relevant right now.” Also being staged is The Croft, a Highland-set evocative thriller. And Macbeth.

“We want to do the work that audiences have told us the sort of shows they want to see,” she explains. “ And then I add to that the work I want to do in my heart.” What have audiences being responding to? “They seem to love Glasgow Girls and Touching The Void. They seem to respond to work that has music, front and centre and they like the theatrical. And these plays, interestingly, are new plays.

“It seems people gravitate to work they feel safe with. But that safety can come in various ways.”

Kemp is aiming for a sense of familiarity, coupled with a frisson of newness? “Exactly. And Macbeth, for example, has a familiar title, and a localness to it.” Have we not done Macbeth to death? “I don’t think so,” she says, smiling. “It’s all about the right thought and the right place. No one could have imagined what Baz Luhrmann did with Romeo and Juliet.”

Kemp is reasoned, pragmatic. You sense she has a native American tracker’s ear to the ground listening to every audience movement, working hard to predict a direction. She wants to present “beautiful little shows such as Cloud Man”. She wants to hear audiences laugh.

Kemp is also entirely aware most theatre audiences are female. “That’s what the stats say.” Why don’t men go to theatre? She pauses for the longest time. “That’s a really good question. I think it’s partly training. We train men out of that engagement, the Billy Elliott notion. So we have to find ways to bring them in.”

Kemp however pulled farmers in to see their world reflected back at them in A Six Inch Layer of Top Soil. “With this play I was keen to find out why men came along and two farmers said ‘Our wives bought the tickets. They thought we would like it’.”

The artistic director can’t reveal details yet but she has specific plans to build theatre “from the ground up” that tackles and incorporates major issues facing men today, the sense of displacement and hopelessness. Which brings us to gender politics and the movement to bring more women to the stage.

Does this not make the boulder that is low male audience numbers even heavier? “I’m not sure men come because there are men on stage. I’m not sure women come because there are women on stage either. You told me earlier about the Patrick Marber play (The Red Lion) that men didn’t go to see. What is important is diversity. It’s perhaps an overused phrase ‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’ But it’s true. And (good) theatre is about telling stories. It’s how you tell the stories.”

What has she loved in theatre in recent times? “Twelfth Night at the Young Vic last year, which was turned into a musical, and brilliantly delivered. It felt relevant, and it made me cry at the end.”

Is there a command to produce Scottish plays? “I think if you’re not trying to develop voices you’re screwed. But that doesn’t mean you have to be parochial. And you’re not going to sell a show to audiences on the basis of it being a Scottish writer. At the moment.”

Kemp is a pragmatist. And passionately keen to learn of any thought, idea that will put bums on sights. It’s no surprise to learn her career has reflected that search.

Theatre was never a thought in her head when she turned up at Edinburgh University to study Politics and Philosophy but during Fresher’s Week she went along with a new pal who auditioned for a play. Hooked thereafter, she began to write, working box office. After university in 2000 she moved to Glasgow and worked Tag Theatre, playwrights such as David Greig and Stephen Greenhorn. She moved to the BBC to work on radio drama yet gave it up to move to Paris to study with L’Ecole Internationale de Theatre Jacques Lecoq.

Thanks to her old friend, James. “He left me a bit of money, which wasn’t expected. It meant I could take the chance.”

However, the experience didn’t pay real dividends. Kemp wasn’t blitzed with original ideas. “There was one occasion when we were asked to express the colour green,” she recalls, shaking her head, grinning. “I struggled with the fact there was no objective truth to the question.”

Still on a quest to discover theatre’s secrets, Lu (short for Louise) Kemp had a much better experience with the Saratoga International Theater Institute in New York. It pulled the theatre concept together for her and returning to Scotland worked on “teaching and adapting”, and before landing the Perth job. “I’m really interested in DIY, how things work together, whether that’s in medicine or theatre,” she says.

You sense Lu Kemp will make Perth Theatre work. Within her open mind, there’s a borderline obsessive (hinted at by the fact she determined to learn fluent French from watching films as a youngster, and once cycled 60k to work each day.) But is being a theatre boss really about the chance to play God?

“No!” she laughs in loud, emphatic voice.