Strictly's Craig Revel Horwood takes over as Miss Hannigan in Annie
The answer, of course, is that he’s a performer through and through and has known from his earliest days as a dancer in Australia that he made a fab-u-lous woman.
In the 1980s he even dressed as his female alter ego Lavish, a gorgeous leggy red-head standing almost 7ft in her stilettoes and he’s established himself as Britain’s glitziest pantomime dame.
These are skills that Craig is bringing to the Piccadilly Theatre for the next 10 weeks as he takes over the role from Miranda Hart.
“I’d already played the role on tour so when the chance came to come into the West End to play Miss Hannigan I couldn’t wait to get back to it,” he says.
Craig Revel Horwood is to play Miss Hannigan in Annie at London’s Piccadilly Theatre
“She’s pretty awful to the kids in the orphanage – not physically but certainly emotionally – but I try to play her with a bit of sympathy.
“She’s probably been mistreated herself so you can see why she is the way she is. And I always try to make characters like that a bit vampy.
“Miranda plays the role very differently from me but I’ve been to see her and really enjoyed her performance.”
Craig may be known for his po-faced putdowns as Strictly’s most judgmental judge but if he carried that persona into real life, he wouldn’t get so much other work.
Away from the Elstree dancefloor persona, Craig is warm and funny company and his love of what he does is infectious. His current workload would floor most people: he won’t have a single day off for months.
“I’m doing six shows a week in Annie, with Saturdays off to do Strictly, and when the theatre’s dark on a Tuesday I’m doing some Evenings With… at Hilton Hotels, which came up before the Annie role.”
This is in addition to the recently launched touring musical Son Of A Preacher Man, based on the songs of Dusty Springfield, which he has directed and choreographed, and the myriad other projects he has going on.
“I love being busy and being able to put so much time into these projects – and not being in a relationship helps!” he laughs.
I meet 52-year-old Craig two days after the new series of Strictly began and he’s delighted to be back in the old routine. How does he feel about working with new chief judge Shirley “Queen of Latin” Ballas, a woman who looks to be as hard to please as he is?
“Shirley’s a legend,” he says.
“She’s already coached several of the Strictly professionals, including Kevin and Joanne Clifton, and I think her involvement will really raise the game of the professional dancers. Some of them have already asked her not to look too closely at certain aspects of their performances.”
When it comes to criticism, unlike some talent show judges, Craig can take it as well as dish it out.
“When I played the Wicked Queen in pantomime in Llandudno in 2009, I hadn’t been on stage in 16 years and of course I was nervous. But I was well aware that, because of Strictly, anyone who saw the show might want to review it using the same words that I use to judge the dancers and that’s OK.
Strictly Come Dancing judges
“Some actors don’t like to read reviews as they think it negatively affects their performances but I just think criticism is a way of improving it. I’m happy to dance with Ann Widdecombe (with whom he’s appeared in panto twice) and put my cards on the table.”
You get the impression that Craig would be good fun to work with, whichever of his well-received acting/ directing/ choreographing hats he’s wearing. Working with young performers and encouraging children and families to see live theatre is particularly important to him and he has nothing but praise for the children in the Annie cast.
“They’re all brilliant. They sing, dance, act, their tap dancing is wonderful, and they’re all so incredibly professional.
“A show like this is important for showing kids a live theatre experience and having a show on Sunday means we can get more families along.”
It’s something he’ll be repeating when he plays the Wicked Queen at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton, after a stint as Captain Hook in pantomime. You sense that doing lots of different things is important to Craig. “A lot of people seem to think that all I do is sit on a panel holding up a paddle with a number on it, when in fact I’ve got a nine-to-five job every single day,” he says.
Craig appears as Miss Hannigan in Annie at London’s Piccadilly Theatre from tomorrow for 10 weeks
He adds with a big grin that one of his most recent jobs was choreographing the final scene for Paddington 2 (out in November), which stars Hugh Grant as has-been actor Phoenix Buchanan. This will obviously be an utter riot. Craig’s also choreographed a short piece for the BalletBoyz dance company’s autumn touring show Fourteen Days.
“When I was on Who Do You Think You Are? I found out that my greatgreat-grandfather was the 1871 clog-dancing champion of Australasia so I’ve put some clog dancing in the piece. I don’t think any of the dancers have performed that kind of dance on stage before, although they do teach it at the Royal Ballet, and it is famously seen in the ballet La Fille Mal Gardée.”
Having taken over most areas of stagecraft, Craig also fancies a slice of the small screen too. He loved taking part in Who Do You Think You Are? And this year he also presented part of a show about Britain’s gay buildings, revisiting the cabaret venue of the Royal Vauxhall Tavern and movingly talking to artists who performed there before the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
“It’s good to work on documentaries as I find them very stimulating,” he says.
Craig will be the Wicked Queen in panto in Southampton
“I’m the kind of person who just wants to learn more and more about the subjects and find myself getting really involved in the issues.”
At that point, I start mentally preparing myself for Craig to present Newsnight. Why not? He’s done everything else and current affairs will look so much lovelier covered with a layer of stardust.
Craig appears as Miss Hannigan in Annie at London’s Piccadilly Theatre from tomorrow for 10 weeks, excluding Saturdays and a few other performances; check website for details. Tickets 0844 871 7630/anniewestend.com.
Details of the BalletBoyz Fourteen Days tour at balletboyz.com
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