CRAIG Revel Horwood stars as Miss Hannigan in the UK and Ireland tour of the smash-hit musical Annie, which comes to Woking at the end of June.

Craig – probably best known as a judge on all 20 series of the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing show – returns to the part having played the role to critical acclaim in this production in both the West End and on tour. 

The musical is set in 1930s New York during The Great Depression, where Annie is forced to live a life of misery and torment at Miss Hannigan’s orphanage. She is determined to find her real parents, and her luck changes when she is chosen to spend Christmas with famous billionaire Oliver Warbucks. 

Spiteful Miss Hannigan has other ideas and hatches a plan to spoil Annie’s search.

Ahead of the production arriving at the New Victoria Theatre, Craig answered some questions about playing the role of the nasty orphanage owner:

What made you want to return to Annie, and what is so appealing about the role of Miss Hannigan?

I just love this character so much. I am deeply in love with her. I think she is absolutely fantastic and an extremely misunderstood woman. Playing her is like an actor’s playground, she is a tyrant and a villain, and those are always the most fun characters to play. 

I play her for real – she’s not a pantomime dame. There’s no mucking about or breaking the fourth wall, she’s a very real character in a beautifully written show. 

Are there any particular challenges to playing Miss Hannigan? 

The challenges are that you need to be honest and real with it. Obviously, body language has a lot to do with that, how she speaks, and the accent of course, which I spent months perfecting.

Audiences probably know you best as a judge on Strictly Come Dancing. Do you enjoy performing and dancing on the stage as opposed to judging others? 

I grew up on musicals. I did West Side Story in Australia and then went into Me and My Girl and La Cage Aux Folles. I joined the famous Lido de Paris and the Moulin Rouge and then that led into being part of West End shows. The last musical I appeared in in the West End was Crazy For You, which opened in 1993.  

I then left to become a director and choreographer, and subsequently a judge on Strictly. My first hoorah back on to the boards was when I was asked to do panto over 10 years ago, and that reignited my passion for performing again really.

It’s long been said never work with children or animals, but in Annie you do both. Are there any challenges that come with this, or do they bring something extra to the show?

We have several sets of children on Annie, so they bring something really organic to the show. You’ll never get the same show twice. You have to play it differently with each set of children.

They are so talented and doing incredible work on the stage and are all fantastic young actors. They will come up with stuff and you’ve got to react to it live on stage which is a bit of a challenge! 

What was your first experience of musical theatre?

The first show that I ever went to see was Jesus Christ Superstar in Sydney back in the 1970s. I fell in love with theatre right there and then. I started training when I was 14, and when I saw Cats in London around the same time, I knew that was absolutely what I wanted to do.

You’ve toured before with various shows, is it something you enjoy, or do you find it a bit of a challenge?

I enjoy the difference in the theatres, the public and their relationships with the stage which always change. You find audiences differ around the country and that’s what is so great about live theatre. 

You’re busy all year with Strictly, performing and often choreographing and directing shows as well. What do you like to do during any down time you get? 

I like to cook, in my own home. I like sleeping in my own bed and cooking in my own home. There’s nothing better to pass the time, whether to test and make up some new recipes or really get stuck into cooking something.

Have you ever been given a piece of advice, or some words of wisdom that have stuck with you?

My teacher used to say “You need to be like a tiger and fearless”, which is of course very apt for this industry. You must be prepared to fail, and as soon as you get used to that you start learning. 

Personally, I feel that listening to your inner voice is the most important thing, especially when making decisions in this industry. I don’t often rule with my head, I rule with my heart. 

What can audiences expect when they come to see you as Miss Hannigan in Annie? 

Number one, entertainment, number two, a shock. Number three, some great singing, dancing and acting because we’ve got such a brilliantly talented cast and, of course, some incredible songs.

Annie – featuring songs such as It’s the Hard Knock  Life, Easy Street, I Don’t Need Anything But You and Tomorrow – is at the New Victoria Theatre from Monday to Saturday, 19-24 June.