AS a kid Craig Revel Horwood longed to learn to dance, but being a boy — and a fat boy
AS a kid Craig Revel Horwood longed to learn to dance, but being a boy — and a fat boy at that — growing up in an Australian outback town in the Seventies meant it was never going to be an easy ride.
“It’s Billy Elliot again,” he says. “I’m from a small gold-mining town so it was quite difficult for me to be a dancer. It’s tough, and you’ve got to hide it. So I started music lessons, I played the trumpet and that led me to understand music and rhythm.
“Then I started dancing as a teenager, when I was about 14. I was quite fat as a kid and I wanted to lose weight so I went to what I thought was an aerobics class — and actually it was a dance class and I loved it. The teacher suggested I should take up classical ballet, which I did, and then I started doing am-dram musicals. That’s when I really fell in love with dancing.”
Revel Horwood’s story is a romantic tale of struggle and hardship and learning to overcome the rubbish that life throws at you. Not that he makes you feel sorry for him — far from it, as there always seems to be a smile behind the voice.
At the age of 17 he launched his showbiz career working as a drag queen in clubs and bars, but three decades on the 48-year-old is now celebrated worldwide as the nasty judge on BBC’s flagship light entertainment show, Strictly Come Dancing. In between filming he also choreographs and directs, and this summer he is back at the Watermill Theatre near Newbury with another musical, The Witches Of Eastwick, which is currently in rehearsal.
His previous work at the Watermill has been very successful. In 2008 his production of Sunset Boulevard transferred to the West End, and the following year Spend, Spend, Spend! won the Theatre Management Award for best musical.
He puts this success down to the fact that the theatre is unusual — not only because it is a quaint and intimate venue but also because its remit as a production house where the actors also sing and play instruments gives the director a great deal of creative freedom.
“It’s so lovely to be back at the Watermill after two years’ absence,” he says.
“The building is fantastic and it’s really intimate, which means people don’t have to shout across the footlights. The space lends itself to ‘small’ acting, and you can be quite honest and truthful with the acting, and it becomes less stagey.
“Also, you are bound to the music — you have to stage it in a way that it’s effective with the actors playing the instruments. That means you get pushed into creative corners that you have to get out of, which means you have to do different and interesting things.”
The Witches Of Eastwick is the story of three lonely women in a sleepy town in America who dream of meeting an eligible bachelor. Then Darryl Horne — played memorably by Jack Nicholson in the 1987 Hollywood movie — bowls into town and they get more than they bargained for. In the process of seducing all three women he imbues them with magical powers, which causes mayhem in the community.
This latest production comes in candy colours, with costumes from the Fifties to modern day, and with a set reminiscent of Desperate Housewives’ Wisteria Lane. The music is a combination of gospel, jazz and big, brassy numbers.
If the film was a lighthearted comedy that played up to Nicholson’s devilish personality and reputation as a lothario, Revel Horwood sees a much more serious and profound message in his version of the stage musical. He chose it, he says, because it’s an epic story with a moral.
“It’s a huge big piece, and I love doing epic pieces with a heart,” he says. “But also there’s a moral as well. Throughout the story the audience can question themselves and hopefully learn something about themselves in the process.
“The story is about love and revenge and how people are seduced by various things and ideas and become selfish. Then they question themselves. At the end, you find that being nice to people is the key to successful communities.”
At this point it would seem rude not to ask the obvious question: if being nice to people is so important, then how come Revel Horwood — nicknamed Revel Horrid — is so mean to his poor celebrity guests on Strictly? He laughs.
“That comes with the job,” he says. “As soon as you are a judge you end up judging. My opinions are reasonably strong and some people don’t like them, but they are honest and truthful.”
Besides, Ann Widdecombe, a former Strictly contestant and side-kick to Revel Horwood in last year’s Snow White pantomime at the Wycombe Swan, has shattered his bad boy image by saying that his nastiness is a bit of an act for the camera.
In private, she says, he’s “lovely”. And who would dare argue with that?
lThe Witches Of Eastwick, a musical comedy,plays at the Watermill Theatre in Bagnor from Thursday, July 25 to Saturday, September 14. Alex Bourne plays Darryl Horne. For tickets call the box office on 01635 46044 or go to www.watermill.org.uk
He’s known as the nasty judge on Strictly Come Dancing, but Craig Revel Horwood, who is back at the Watermill Theatre near Newbury to direct another musical, managed to charm the pants off Standard Arts Editor LESLEY POTTER.