Interview: Craig Revel Horwood – 'I am quite opinionated'

Q&A with Craig Revel Horwood

Strictly Come Dancing judge talks about directing and choreographing a new production of Sister Act, currently touring the UK

Craig Revel Horwood has made a television career out of barbed comments and caustic remarks – but in real life, his love for good theatre, and helping performers flourish, has given Sister Act a new quality. Here, he tells us about the creative process – and his busy working life away from the Strictly dancefloor.

You were due to work on the first UK production of Sister Act in 2009 – what happened?

I was employed to do the choreography, and then in the end they changed the dates and I was dumped. I'd already done all the auditions, so it was a bit bizarre, because my head was really in the show. But then Anthony Van Laast took over and did the West End version that I was meant to do. I went to see it and thought 'Oh, that wasn't what was in my head, darling.' And nine years later, I've been given the chance to do the show justice – or what I consider justice.

Only this time, you're directing as well as choreographing...

Well, I am quite opinionated, so I think it's much easier for all concerned if I direct and choreograph. So then there isn't a line between direction and choreography, and it all becomes one thing. And I've been doing this for 20 years now and love it. I direct as many shows as I can fit in between Strictly Come Dancing and other performance stuff.

The lead role of Deloris Van Cartier is being played by X Factor winner Alexandra Burke – it's a role with lots of comic timing, did you have to work hard with her on that?

I wondered that myself, I thought she can sing, she looks great – but my big question was could she act? The Bodyguard, which she was in previously, was a completely different type of part, you can do that by numbers – but this, you can't. The story requires someone to be extremely funny and sensitive to the audience – we had to teach her everything, but she was hungry for it and loved the process.

And actually she is the most incredible actress, she's totally organic and in the moment. Every night is different, which I completely encourage because it keeps it fresh. She learnt to listen to the audience, she learnt comic timing, and she's just wonderful.

And now I think she's having the most fun she's ever had in her life, because she can be free as an artist rather than just a vocalist with a microphone and a pretty face. She's actually got a lot to offer the world, and I say watch this space because I think she'll go on to do great things as an actress in TV and films.

And this is a completely different production of Sister Act from the previous show which played the West End and toured the UK, right?

Yes, completely. Some people loved the other production, but I thought it was two-dimensional. I got rid of all the star spangled banner stuff and replaced it with truth and honesty – and I think that's what separates it, and makes Alexandra's character so believable.

What, for you, is the appeal of Sister Act?

It's uplifting and joyous, with a massive comedy edge. And as much as it has a dark sub-plot, there are wonderful musical numbers and fantastically heartfelt moments that send shivers down your spine.

And it's about human nature. This woman Deloris witnesses a murder, she doesn't believe in God and is put inside a convent to hide. And it's that juxtaposition of her not believing, and their believing, that pulls them together and shows that we can all live together under an umbrella, as human beings – unlike Trump, but let's not go there – that might be my next musical.

Most people know you from Strictly Come Dancing, but you're a busy boy all year round, aren't you?

My year starts in April, casting for whatever musical I'm doing that summer – which this year is Son of a Preacher Man, a new show about Dusty Springfield. And then I do four P&O Strictly Come Dancing cruise ships, where I judge onboard passenger competitions – and I'm vile, because they expect me to be and there's so much to complain about because they're terrible, but it's good fun and they love it.

Then it's Strictly in the autumn as well as panto from November to January, then I direct and perform in the Strictly Come Dancing Live tour, I'm on holiday in March and then it all starts all over again.

As a dancer, you go from one show to the next, and you never know where your next pound is coming from, and I think that's what makes me say yes to so many things, because there's always a fear that you won't have a job.

Sister Act tours the UK from Mon 3 Apr–Sun 27 Aug.

Sister Act

Craig Revel Horwood directs and choreographs this feel-good musical comedy featuring original music by Tony and Oscar-winner Alan Menken. X Factor winner Alexandra Burke stars as sassy club singer in need of witness protection, Deloris Van Cartier.

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