GCN contributor Elliott Salmon sat down with Strictly Come Dancing star Craig Revel Horwood to talk about his role as Miss Hannigan in Annie The Musical coming to the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin at the end of August.
When I was but a wee sprog in primary school, each class would host its bi-annual school musical right before the summer holidays began. It was the only time of year when we would swap phonics and long division for a singing extravaganza and drag families to see their children break character to wave at them in the audience. Admit it… We all did it!
So when the time finally came around when I was in first class, the show of choice was none other than Annie The Musical. I think what makes this tale so iconic is the character of Miss Agatha Hannigan and whilst I wasn’t cast as the sloppy matriarch in 2007 (one day I’ll get over it!), my love for her has never faded.
I was lucky enough to sit down with the ever so brilliant, Craig Revel Horwood ahead of his arrival to Dublin’s Bord Gáis Energy Theatre with Annie The Musical. We chatted about all things Agatha Hannigan and let me tell you, dear reader, his outlook on her truly took me by surprise. His love and admiration for her is endless and it was a pleasure to speak with him about my favourite topic of all, musicals!
What’s it been like returning to play the mother of all mother’s again, Miss Hannigan from Annie The Musical?
I love her. I’m totally in love with the character! I mean, the beauty is, she’s either drunk or hungover in every single scene which is really good fun to play. She’s absolutely wonderful and I think the audience eventually falls in love with her as well… Even though she goes to prison in the end for trying to sell off Annie for $50,000, but who wouldn’t?!
Did you grow up watching Annie The Musical?
Yeah, I did and I love Carol Burnett, she’s one of my favourite actors. I think she’s brilliant because she’s not only screen, she’s very stagey and I think that comes across in that movie. I just love having the opportunity to play that role because she is awkward, she is completely unloved and misguided and misunderstood. All she wants is a man to get her out of this situation.
She wants to fall in love, get married and live happily ever after but instead, she’s running an orphanage in the state where gas and electricity are all paid for (probably) and she’s running it like a terrible workhouse for children who are sewing. She bolts into work at four in the morning I mean, she’s a real cow. She’s brilliant. That’s what I love about her. It’s a great opportunity.
What other parts of Miss Hannigan do you love?
I think she is misunderstood and I play her with great respect to old women in that position, a single woman that is a bit more mature, let’s say, at a desperation crisis point. It all ends not happily ever after, it does for Annie because it’s Christmas time and she gets to be adopted by a multi-billionaire… How wonderful! Lucky her and unlucky Hannigan!
I think that Annie and Hannigan are the same in a way. Miss Hannigan is jealous of Annie and that’s why she doesn’t want her to leave the orphanage. I think she sees her as a daughter in effect.
We don’t really know much about Miss Hannigan and her backstory, do we?
I think you have to create that. I think Annie is one of those out-there characters and that’s why she wants to keep hold of her. She does treat her as a daughter. She’s the harshest on Annie out of any of the orphans because she really cares for her. I think that that’s the point and then the fact that she is going to sell her off for $50,000 and then kill her at the end is quite extraordinary…
It’s quite a dark story, people don’t realise. It is a happy story but there are dark parts to it and Hannigan is part of that because she’s convinced by her brother, who’s just come out of prison for the 17th time, to do disastrous things… I mean, it’s quite dark, to be honest, you wouldn’t think Annie would be like that but it is!
Do you think that she may have had a failed stage career before she took over the orphanage?
I think she went through a loveless marriage, a breakup and then she ended up on a doorstep just like Annie with nowhere to go or nothing to do. She ended up falling into running this orphanage just to make ends meet.
She’s desperately looking for love, because any man that comes into her life, whether it be a police officer or the laundry man, she’s making a pass at them. I remember seeing in the movie with Carol Burnett, where she’s stood out on the street in her lingerie trying to get a man and I thought, “Yeah… That’s her.”
I think the reason she’s drinking is to get away from it and to escape and to live an alternative life in her head. One that’s not real, obviously, and therefore alcohol gives her that impression. She’s an alcoholic and not capable of holding any relationship down, let alone running an orphanage!
There have been so many different portrayals of Miss Hannigan: Carol Burnett, Kathy Bates, Cameron Diaz etc. How have you made her your own?
By giving her love and falling in love with the character. I think that’s the only way you can do that. I know, the late, great, Paul O’Grady played her more downtrodden, quite like Lily Savage in that way. She was a mess whereas the way I play her is with that element that she’s always doing her very best at wearing lipstick and doing her nails but badly. She’s doing her very best at trying to look good with no money and that’s how I approach it.
I suppose that’s what makes her a bit different. I remember someone saying, “You’re far too glamorous to be Miss Hannigan!”. And I went, “No! She’s tragic!”. She’s glamour tragic. I don’t play her as a drag queen, I play her very much as a woman or a person just looking for love and unable to find it.
My favourite number in the show is ‘Easy Street’. I was wondering if that is also your favourite number too?
Yeah, it’s iconic because you get to play off of two characters, two of which she dislikes. She doesn’t like her brother that much, even though they grew up together and she doesn’t like the girlfriend at all, Lily St. Regis. It’s your classic mould and it’s very funny that she starts getting on with them. It does play back because Rooster and Hannigan talk about their mum, in a familiar way, and knowing that their mother was a bad woman who taught them how to “roll the dice” and taught them their bad ways, and that being good doesn’t pay but, being bad does.
They were brought up that way but Hannigan is trying to change that by having a real job, whereas her brother doesn’t. He has a life of crime, but Hannigan actually has a proper job looking after kids in an orphanage. Yes, she works them to death and there’s a workhouse situation, where they’re up at four o’clock in the morning to strip their beds and she tells them to clean up and get down to the sewing machines etc. That’s why she’s such a joy to play, because there is a lot of history, which you don’t really get with other characters in the show. Villains are so much better to play than the love interest!
Are you looking forward to coming to Dublin for your performance in Annie The Musical?
I cannot wait. It holds fantastic memories because I was there when I took on the role of Munkustrap, which is one of the lead roles in Cats The Musical, and that was at The Point Theatre.
Obviously, we’ve been there before with the Strictly Come Dancing tour. We just never get long enough there because it’s always just two days but this time, I’m there for two whole weeks! We’ve got a Sunday and a Monday off so we’re going to do a drag show and drag bingo and everything else. I cannot wait!
Tickets for Annie The Musical starring Craig Revel Horwood are on sale now via the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre.
© 2023 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.
GCN has been a vital, free-of-charge information service for Ireland’s LGBTQ+ community since 1988.
During this global COVID pandemic, we like many other organisations have been impacted greatly in the way we can do business and produce. This means a temporary pause to our print publication and live events and so now more than ever we need your help to continue providing this community resource digitally.
GCN is a registered charity with a not-for-profit business model and we need your support. If you value having an independent LGBTQ+ media in Ireland, you can help from as little as €1.99 per month. Support Ireland’s free, independent LGBTQ+ media.