Actress and television presenter Mel Giedroyc is currently starring in a newly updated version of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Company.
Directed by Marianne Elliott who brought Angels in America to the National Theatre and Broadway in 2017, this version of Company features a gender-swapped lead in Bobbie – now played by Rosalie Craig. The show also includes an openly queer couple – played by Jonathan Bailey and Alex Gaumond – alongside Broadway legend Patti LuPone making her triumphant return to the West End.
On 12 February, to support queer charity The Albert Kennedy Trust, Company will deliver a special performance in aid of raising awareness and funds for homeless LGBTQ youth.
Having dropped the kids at school and in the middle of having her morning bath, we spoke to Mel Giedroyc about returning to the West End, the importance of a queer charity like AKT, and why discussing the power of difference with children can keep the world spinning forward.
Hey Mel, it’s William.
Hello! Now I must confess to start with you William that if you can hear some kind of watery noise… that’s because I’m in the bath.
Well it is early in the morning and actually I’m still in bed so…
My whole body clock has had to change because of doing this show so I get up, my girls go to school, and then it’s straight into the bath – I’m not going to lie to you. It feels very decadent to talk to you like this…
This is probably the most glamorous interview I’ve ever done then if you’re in the bath.
I love it.
Before we get onto AKT and this wonderful charity night, we have to talk about Company. Are you having the best time?
It’s literally… sorry, I was about to start shaving my legs. That’s too much, isn’t it? This is such West End actress behaviour. It’s unbelievable.
I love it!
I would say, and I’ve had a lot of fun doing loads of amazing things in my career, that this is the most fun I’ve ever had on stage. We all keep saying it and it probably sounds incredibly lovely, but it’s such a great gang of people. I think people do respond to that when they come and see the show. They say that there’s a good vibe coming off the stage and that isn’t always the way. There’s 14 of us, sometimes 17, and it’s unusual to look around and say you really like them all. It’s a very, very good vibe and I’m having a ball. Gavin Spokes, who plays my husband, is an experienced comedy actor and it’s a joy to do my scenes with him and Rosalie (Craig, plays Bobbie) every performance. I can’t quite believe it! We’ve got only a few weeks to go William and I’m clinging on now. This is the home stretch and we’ve got to enjoy every single moment as it’s going to go so quickly.
Was there a specific reason to why you wanted to be in this production?
Erm… can you still hear me? I’m lying down now in the bath.
Yeah I can.
Do you want to get into your bath and we can have a chat like that?
I do feel like I’m missing out not being in water…
At least get yourself in a towel – do something!
Okay, back to your question… So I saw the production that Sam Mendes directed a the Donmar Warehouse back in 1996 which had Adrian Lester playing Bobby and I remember being very taken with the show. I’m a big Stephen Sondheim fan, I think he’s a genius, and it was the fact it was now Company in a new gender-swapped version with Bobbie. And then with Marianne Elliott, I agreed to it straight away. This is a real challenge to sing his songs music and I love singing and have done a fair bit, but I’m not a trained West End singer. However, with the chance to sing on a West End stage at this calibour of music is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Was that level of ‘West End singing’ as you put it an exciting challenge or totally terrifying?
I’m not going to lie, I was bricking it. I had between January and August and I knew I was doing the show since last January. I had these months of thinking about learning to sing properly and then classically time went by, it got to June and we were about to start rehearsals. They put me in touch with this amazing guy called Sam Kenyan who is a guru for the voice so I popped down to see him three times and that opened my brain. You do get stronger and stronger doing it eight times every week. You get more confident and it’s not like I have a huge solo therefore I’m not under the scalpel, but I’ve got to be in tune and put the work in. It’s like singing in the best choir you could imagine.
You mentioned the gender-swapped addition to this story. That must have been another level for you to see a female leading a traditionally male show?
Yes. To be honest, it just kind of made sense of the show rather than being a big statement or a big step. It made sense of the words and the story. If you’d had a man playing that central role, he’s living in a nice apartment, he’s got a job, he’s got lots of friends and he’s got quite a few girlfriends. You’d sort of think, so what?! He’s 35, okay. You’re single, that’s really not a big deal. I think it has much more poignancy if it’s a woman playing that central role. She’s 35, all her friends are married, she’s thinking about if she’s going to settle down and have children, will she meet the right person. I think it gives a lot more interest and I think Rosie nails it so beautifully. She’s such a sensitive performer. It’s not an easy part. As Bobbie, you’re part narrator, listening, reacting and, yes you’ve got these amazing songs. She’s doing amazingly!
The other changes to the show, I really love that there’s been the addition of an LGBTQ couple. It adds a new level and reflects the world we all live in.
Absolutely! Again, I would find it really odd to be doing a show in 2019 in the West End that doesn’t include and address those things. I’d find it really odd. There’s something a-miss here. Full respect to Marianne and her team. I think they’ve done a really good thing. It’s not just an important thing but a sensible thing, actually.
And with people from the community that do love theatre, that visibility is vital.
Completely! I hope this is something I’ve passed onto my children. I think it is. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing, I don’t think, without the support of the LGBTQ community, but also others. It’s what it is all about. It’s a celebration I think. Hopefully this night with AKT will be a marker for that. Everyone is very excited about it! It’ll be a really, really special vibe in that theatre. The Albert Kennedy Trust, I’ve heard about them and now researched and it’s clearly an important body to be involved with.
One stat that sticks out from AKT is that 24% of homeless youth on the street are LGBTQ. It almost feels like a statistic that can’t be true.
It’s a really sad statistic and a shocker. I thought in this day and age that this number would be smaller but it shows that, okay, we can’t sit on laurels and need to get the message across. We have to keep fundraising and keep working and getting the message across. AKT are speaking to the cast and it’ll be nice to meet and hear from them about the steps they’re making. It’s great!
What would be your message to those parents who have a child that is questioning their gender or sexuality and perhaps struggling to understand? How do we open their mind?
Goodness me, that’s a good question isn’t it. It’s about listening. Listen. Be open. Open yourself up and talk to people. It sounds so 1970s but they are simple things that can also be difficult. I think it’s about trying to… I’m a pretty optimistic and positive person and it’s about trying to rejoice in different and I can’t think of a worse world where you’re living like a bunch of robots and that people are all the same as you; I can’t imagine anything worse. It’s about rejoicing and listening and being open as a parent. You have to be. What’s the point otherwise? We’re trying to move forward as a human race. If we’re trying, and my God we’re trying particularly at the moment to not move backwards. It’s about taking people on individually and asking people why they think that. ‘Why is that your entrenched view’? Also, it’s about teaching your children to do the same thing. I’m amazed compared to my experience at school how open my children are in terms of what they’re talking about and how their friends are addressing these issues. It’s a world away from what I experienced where there was a lot of stuff that just wasn’t talked about and hushed up. People who were gay who felt they couldn’t come out. I hope that things are moving forward in a positive way. I only have my kids to filter into the world of the 15/16 year old. They take people on and I encourage that. What do you think? Are you optimistic and positive?
Yeah! The minute we go silent, that’s when people stop remembering about others and their stories and experiences.
I get a real buzz. I go into work every day and in our little corner there is Company, and right next door there’s Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. I just think ‘yes’, this is a good place to be. It feels great and it feels strong. It feels like the way forward. I loved going to see Jamie because I went on a matinee and there were two huge school trips going to see it and this is absolutely the way forward. This is what is and should be happening. They loved it. It was a bunch of 14/15/16 year olds.
My last two questions and then you can have a bath in peace…
I’ve got to shave my legs!
Speaking of visibility, did you ever notice or experience any form or prejudice with your dear friend Sue Perkins being open and proud of her sexuality?
It’s wonderful! It’s been the most incredible friendship and its ongoing. We’ve known each other for 30 years and I’ve been extremely proud. It wasn’t the same and I’ve been alongside my best friend really all that time – through the ups and downs. It’s been joyous and I feel honoured to be given a special knowledge about how these things work and an entry into it all. It’s been amazing. It’s been enriching. God, I sound like bloody Gwyneth Paltrow. It’s because I’m in the bath! I’ll start cupping any minute now. It’s been wonderful and she’s such a great example, Sue, of somebody full of humour and strength. It’s inspiring. Ah God! It’s not like it’s ever been something that… I don’t know. It just feel completely normal. I’m who I am, she is who she is. I think she knows I’m there for her and I’ve been there for her. There was this one time… oh no.
Oh, do go on…
So this one time she said I nicked her cab. I jumped in her cab and she said I flicked her my two fingers. I didn’t.
Alongside the amazing show, what do you think this special evening for AKT is going to be like for those that will buy tickets and support?
I think it’s one no to be missed, Feb 12th. I think it’ll be a special combination of laughter and poignancy. Sorry to over use that but is a poignant show particularly for single people. Loads of people have said it’s empowered them or feels thoughtful. Hopefully it’ll combine the brilliant things of AKT by having that body of people there which we know are mutually helping each other… and the show itself. If you haven’t got a ticket, go out and get a ticket ASAP as it’ll be great. Oh my God, they go so quickly as it’s one night. It’s a special one.
Totally. I’m going to let you go now and let the shaving begin…
Please don’t think of me as some awful West End lush. Well actually, do. That’s exactly what I am.
More information on the special Company performance can be found here.