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Brief Encounter With ... Brother Love's Craig Revel Horwood

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Familiar to millions as a judge on the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing, Craig Revel Horwood combines his directing and choreography career with, amongst others, appearances on the Strictly arena tour and an annual outing in panto.

Revel Horwood launched his next production - a Neil Diamond concert tour called Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show starring Brian Conley, Darren Day and Ben James Ellis - last Thursday at an event in North London.

It coincided with the announcement that he will reprise his role as the Wicked Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, this year in Dartford and alongside none other than Strictly contestant and surprise audience favourite Ann Widdecombe.

I got to speak to Craig about the upcoming tour, which will see the show travel the country in a tent; his Whatsonstage.com Award winning production of Chess, which is currently touring the UK and will recieve an outing in Canada this summer ahead of an anticipated West End transfer; and the news he will be spending Christmas with his Widdy in Waiting.

Can you tell me a little bit about what Brother Love is about and the concept behind it?

The concept is to provide the audience with a whole bunch of Neil Diamond songs, with a great band, great singing, and great personalities. He'd toured his own show called Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show, so that's the hook that we hang the whole show on. Because we've been given the rights to do all of the music I thought if we got some really great actor in there, and some really great singers, we can demonstrate the songs, like "Love on the Rocks" and bring more to Neil's work.

We can actually introduce a whole new generation to his music. If you think the people who loved his songs are now 40 or 50 year olds, and they've all got teenage daughters and sons who we're hoping will come along and be introduced to it. Everyone likes anthems like "Sweet Caroline". Who would have ever thought that that would become an anthem? Everyone knows it. It gets the whole audience on their feet, everyone loves it. So just to introduce them to some of his other music is a good thing.

We've got Brian Conley who plays Brother Love as our MC, linking all of the songs together, and they are then demonstrated by the cast. With some of the numbers the audience will probably end up thinking, "oh, I didn't know Neil Diamond wrote that song" because it was made famous by someone else. The girls will sing duets with the guys and we'll hopefully give every song a beginning, and middle and an end. A proper theatrical experience inside a tent.

It is exactly that, a tent show, but inside that is a three-sided thrust stage with a pulpit and a runway. It'll be a fully staged concert with a cast of 25 people. We want the sound to be extraordinary, we want the singing to be extraordinary. We just want to give Neil Diamond's music a sense of worth and to bring it to life.

You've said that you're looking to create a concert rather than a jukebox musical?

I didn't want the show to be about Neil Diamond's life and why he wrote the songs, I wanted to liberate the joy that he's brought the world, and that is his music. You can see it progress through the years. From the younger Neil Diamond to the older and wiser one.

That's why I've got Ben James Ellis, because he'll be singing all of the youthful stuff, when Neil was starting out I suppose, and Darren Day will be doing more of the tortured, soul stuff. I think Darren has come into that era now, in his own personal life, that he can express all of that. He can do the storytelling. Brian Conley of course as the father figure and gets away with singing all of those huge ballads and the joy songs, all of the gospel stuff.

I'm very much looking forward to working with Brian. He's very creative, and he can be very amusing. At the same time he can be a very serious actor, which I think is brilliant, and there is that side that I want to bring out in him. Then Darren, I think hasn't been given the opportunity to fly as an actor. I'm hoping that this will give him the chance to develop that.

It's really suited to the characters, which I think is going to be great, and a great experience for the audience. At a Neil Diamond concert you'll get songs that he chooses. They're all classics, but there are things that people always want him to do, and this is an opportunity for the audience to revel and delight at the wonder of his music.

I don't want it to be a heavy story about Neil's life - this isn't a Mamma Mia!, linked with mad characters in that way. It's just being honest with his music. This is going to be a combination of every skill I've learnt as a director, and combining it into one form and making no excuses for it. I think entertainment it's nice not to have to go too heavy duty musical. Sometimes it nice to just sit back and just enjoy the music and celebrate that. That's why I'm doing it.

I think there might naturally be a narrative. When you have a man meet a woman and they fall in love - and you sing those sorts of songs - and then the man splits up with the woman for a reason - and you sing "Love on the Rocks" - there will be a theatrical arc to the show. I think that helps celebrating the work.

How does directing a show in a tent compare to the more traditional theatres and arenas you've recently worked in?

I've directed and choreographed loads of opera, I've done La traviata and Il trovatore with a cast of thousands in Amsterdam, Munich and all sorts of places. I'm well versed in doing large, concert type things, its just that I'm not known for that. I'm know for holding paddles up with numbers between one and ten, oddly.

I have had an 18 year career as a director-choreographer which not many people know about. I know about it, I've lived it, darling! It's about bringing it to this sort of world. It's about challenging yourself, and about not doing the same sort of things. I always take on things which are a challenge to me. This is art meeting entertainment and I think it's kind of like Neil Diamond meets Glyndebourne. They celebrate Puchini down there, so why can't we celebrate Neil Diamond up here? I can't wait to get tucked into the rehearsal period.

It was recently announced that you'll be doing panto this year with someone a bit special. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

I'm doing panto this year with the gorgeous Ann Widdecombe. She's playing my servant, which I think is hilarious. We are doing Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and I'm the Wicked Queen - naturally. This is my third incarnation of her. Ann and I were having a glass of sauvignon blanc after the Strictly Come Dancing Live Tour one night, because I had to train her up for the tour and then dance with her, well dance I would use very loosely, but throw her about a bit. I was thinking, wouldn't it be great to do panto?

She thought it would be a rather good idea, and I thought if she played my servant and I would get to boss her around. She's bossed so many people around for such a long time. It's going to be very tongue in cheek, it's going to be a good laugh and pure entertainment. She's got a year now to learn her lines, so that's good!

How has she made the jump from her political career to the entertainer she is now establishing herself as?

It's because she's funny. She's great. Her comebacks are fantastic. I'm sure she'll probably get the better of me in panto as well, even if I am playing the Queen. I think we'll bounce off each other very well, or bounce her off the floor probably. I know they want me to do a dance number, which I'm dreading. Twelve shows a week, two shows a day, that's a big shock to anyone. It's going to be for an MP I'm sure! Panto is not easy. It might look like a walk in the park, but I'm on stage literally all the time apart from 14 costume changes where I leave the stage for a minute and then come back on.

You've always got to go to the gym two months before, work out and get fit for it. It's quite demanding, especially if I'm going to be doing a tango with the Widders, I'll need all the strength I can get!

Finally, congratulations on your Whatsonstage.com Awards win for Chess

I'm absolutely delighted, and the company have been ecstatic about it too. It's a really big achievement, especially for an actor-musician show. A lot of hard work and effort went into getting it right and it's just great that it's been appreciated by the audiences. I'm delighted that the Whatsonstage.com Awards exist and I think it's brilliant that they're getting bigger and better every year.

You are taking the show to Toronto this summer?

Yes, we're taking the entire cast to Toronto, and then hopefully bringing the entire cast into the West End in November. That's our big plan. It's really, really good and I think the whole thing deserves an outing.

It's a wonderful score and I think it's very cleverly written, it's arresting, it has loads of wonderful songs in it and beautiful music. We have an extremely talented company who not only sing, dance and act but also play musical instruments to an extremely high standard. There is no compromise in it, that's been the most difficult thing to cast, and I wouldn't want to loose anyone in that cast.

Bringing an actor-musician show to the West End would certainly be different to a lot of other shows in London at the moment

I think it's a new thing for the audience to actually get their heads around. I think when you first come into the show and you see thirty people on stage holding a musical instrument you think, "What show is this going to be?"

You end up forgetting about the musical instruments in the end because of the quality of the acting and the skill of the performers. I suppose it can be likened to something like Avenue Q where you forget the puppeteers and you start believing in the character of the actual puppets.

Chess really demonstrates how talented the people are in this country. I don't know that America could do it and I don't know if Australia could do it or New Zealand or anything like that. So I think it's something that's very theatre-specific to this country. I think should be taken worldwide.

Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show will begin its nationwide tour at Cheltenham Racecourse on 8 April 2011 before playing dates at Leeds Castle, Maidstone; Beaulieu, Hampshire; Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire; Rockingham Castle, Leicester; Goodwood Racecourse, West Sussex finishing at the Royal Sandringham Estate, King’s Lynn on 22 May 2011.

Chess continues its national tour, playing Woking until 12 March 2011 and travelling to Torquay, Dublin and High Wycombe, finishing in Glasgow on 9 April 2011.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs starring Craig Revel Horwood and Ann Widdecombe will play the Orchard Theatre, Dartford from 9 December to 31 December 2011.


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