Fab-u-lous! Strictly’s Craig shines in Annie

Craig Revel Horwood coming to Eastbourne as Miss Hannigan in Annie
Craig Revel Horwood coming to Eastbourne as Miss Hannigan in Annie

Annie arrives at the Congress Theatre next week, and so does one of the most familiar faces from TV. Is that Miss Hannigan up there – or is it Strictly’s Craig Revel Horwood?

The ultimate judge among judges, Craig puts his reputation on the line and on stage, but early reviews from this touring production have given a huge thumbs up. I caught up with Craig between shows at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend, and despite the demands of eight shows a week, he was absolutely loving it.

“The schedules are hectic but the show is getting a terrific reception. We’ve had to be rehearsing every day in the early stages, especially because we have the three sets of children. Touring isn’t half bad when there are venues as lovely as your town to come to. I can’t wait for Eastbourne and I have lots of friends coming to see the show there. And yes, I’m sure I’ll permit myself enough breathing space for a stroll along the prom! I have only once trod the boards at the Congress, and I think that was back in 1989 with Danny La Rue. Lots of my touring shows come down to Eastbourne – mostly recently Fiddler on the Roof last year, which was most well received. Congress audiences know what they like, and I am certain they will like this production.”

“Annie is a great story and lasts, and will last, for ever. It introduces a new generation of children to theatre – and especially live theatre. All over the UK, towns and cities have these wonderful theatres and it’s brilliant to be able to keep them alive and thriving, and to win over new generations.”

This, clearly, is not a man jaded with touring. Now more usually a presenter and an impresario, Craig is as committed and vibrant as was the dancer and choreographer Craig who amassed a stunning CV of just about every great show in the repertoire – Cats, West Side Story, Cage Aux Folles, Miss Saigon, the list goes on.

“It’s a fresh version, not avant-garde and not discarding the show’s traditions, but it embraces the actor and the character in a slightly different way. It puts Annie’s life together through a kind of jigsaw puzzle.”

I am intrigued – but with a little chuckle, Craig counsels patience. “You’ll understand when you see it, and I know you’ll love it! Definitely not same old, same old. It is really exciting being part of something like this. Live theatre must always be looking to renew itself.”

Is he getting a few boos? “Well occasionally but in the nicest way! I think people buy the character. I’m not up there as a panto dame, I’m up there as Miss Hannigan, and telling a beautiful story.”

So which side of the footlights does Craig really prefer? “Well, I performed until I was 30, and then for the last twenty years I’ve been directing – and I’d forgotten how much fun it is to perform! All the preparation – it takes me an hour and a half to get prepared and made up for a performance. And all the touring and packing your bags and get-ins. It’s put me back in touch with that side of the business, and I am hugely enjoying it all again!”

Notoriously, Craig is known for giving contestants a 5 or a 6 when his fellow judges award 8. He would doubtless say that they are indulgent and he is merely professional. Next week, Eastbourne audiences have their own chance to judge when the consummate professional comes to town. I wouldn’t bet against a perfect 10! By Kevin Anderson