STRICTLY COME DANCING JUDGE
Annie - Daily Telegraph - Dominic Cavendish20th Aug 2015
As Strictly Come Dancing’s resident super-bitch, Craig Revel Horwood dishes out disdainful feedback and vicious put-downs like there’s no tomorrow.
Now the unashamedly merciless Aussie is putting himself in the firing-line as the star attraction in a touring revival of Annie, that fairytale 1977 musical about a ginger-haired orphan rescued from her hard-knock life by lonely billionaire Oliver Warbucks. Horwood, 50, plays the Cruella de Vil-type orphanage matron Miss Hannigan, whose Depression-era maltreatment of the little mite has a Dickensian nastiness.
Dearly as I would love to be raising low score-cards with a vengeful leer and giving him a taste of his own medicine, suggesting that I’d seen suppler movement in a scarecrow and more elegance in an elephant, I have to admit – without getting too Bruno Tonioli about it – that Horwood’s archetypal anti-mother figure made me quiver and shiver in all the right places.
It’s actually a testament to just how much this showbiz renaissance-man has thrown himself into the role that if you didn’t know that CRH was on the bill, you might be none the wiser. He’s transformed by feline eye make-up, sizeable falsies and a wig of ginger-ringlets made horribly distinctive by what looks like a cowpat of bleached hair in the middle. Sure, he skirts drag-act grotesquery – not least in an early appearance in revealingly skimpy nightie and polka-dot dressing-gown – but there’s no sense of this being an in-joke for those who know him well.
His Miss H hisses with the right degree of child-hating venom, lunges at the laundry man with unforced comic impetuosity – and can be faulted neither in the self-pitying, gin-addled solo (Little Girls) or that jazzy shared dream of the good-life (Easy Street). Choreographer Nick Winston doesn’t push him, or his replaced hip, too hard, but he amply keeps his strutting, sashaying end up. Even his exaggeratedly limp wrists are waspishly articulate.
Is he robbing good actresses of a decent job? Well, yes, but he’s not hogging the limelight the whole run: Lesley Joseph, Jodie Prenger and Elaine C Smith have all been lined up to take over at various points. So, it’s a fab-u-lous 8 from me, darling.
As for the rest of the show: Nikolai Foster’s revival has such polish and panache, sporting an attractive jigsaw-puzzle design by Colin Richmond, that it all slots together nicely, even if the faults inherent in the comic-strip derived book are glaring. We may wince at the second-half’s far-fetched twist in which little Annie winds up inspiring FDR’s “New Deal” programme, or shift uncomfortably at the slightly suspect devotion of Daddy Warbucks (nicely played by imposing baldie Alex Bourne).
We may note too that there’s no comparison, in terms of pathos and plot, with Oliver! But such misgivings hardly amount to a hill of beans.
The copper-bottomed numbers like Tomorrow keep coming, and coming back (in canny reprises) so why carp? The lesser-known songs too, giving a pastiche sense of old-world glamour (NYC, the upbeat paean to New York, say, or You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile) are given top-dollar treatment. And there are infectious mass outbreaks of choreographed cuteness. Annie (ably incarnated at the matinee I attended by Isabella Pappas) and her fellow dormitory ragamuffins are unstoppable when they get in their determined, boot-stomping stride – with a hired pooch working his little paws off too as Annie’s adopted mutt Sandy.
Is escapism of this lavish order – which cornily wraps everything up, too, in time for Christmas – strictly necessary? Perhaps not, but it’s welcome all the same, and wouldn’t look out of place in the West End either.