Mel Giedroyc: 'The role that I'd love to play? Caiaphas in an all-female Jesus Christ Superstar'

TV presenter and actress Mel Giedroyc explains why she’s thrilled 2018 is, for her, the ‘year of the boards’

Mel Giedroyc
Mel Giedroyc
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

Mel Giedroyc’s professional on-stage career began alongside Sue Perkins, in the double act Mel and Sue. The two were shortlisted for the Daily Express best newcomers award at the Edinburgh fringe in 1993 and since then the duo have presented many TV series including Light Lunch on Channel 4, Mel and Sue on ITV and of course, The Great British Bake Off. Giedroyc is no stranger to the stage having presented the WhatsOnStage Awards in the past as well as starring in the hit Edinburgh show Eurobeat and Luce last year at Southwark Playhouse. This year she’s presenting a new version of The Generation Game with Perkins, while also taking the role of Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing at the Rose Theatre in Kingston, and appearing in Stephen Sondheim’s Company, alongside Patti LuPone and Rosalie Craig in the West End.

This version of Much Ado About Nothing is set in a spa hotel, what are you doing with it?
We’re not being afraid of the darker elements of the play. Our version has a mafia setting in Sicily. It takes place in a luxury spa hotel and the wars which Don Pedro and his army of Mafioso have come from are Mafia turf wars. They are all lying low in the hotel. The play needs to be set in a patriarchal society where women are told what to do and it works. I’m not saying that all of Sicilian society is like that, but there are elements of that society, and the Mafia, that are still steeped in patriarchy and tradition.

So it’s a modern setting?
Yes. I think there’s something really exciting about going to the theatre, sitting down and the curtain opens and then it’s a contemporary setting. I remember feeling like that with the Andrew Scott Hamlet. It was in a kind of Scandi-noir penthouse, very luxurious and I thought: I can relate to that. Not because I’m hanging out in Scandinavian penthouse suites, but it’s just exciting when a play is set in our times.

Do you think it’s important to reinvent Shakespeare?
I think there’s always room for the beautifully traditionally done doublet and hose-tastic in a garden. I would love watching that. But the beauty of his writing is that it’s so up for interpretation. Sometimes people go too far – I was involved in a very brave student production of King Lear in 1990, which involved eight of us all gender fluid, of course, very ahead of our time. We were in urine coloured pyjamas, in scaffolding and chains and shaved heads. We literally went berserk, we covered ourselves in porridge. My brother came to see it and said it was the worst thing he’d ever seen on a stage. So you can take it a bit far.

Are you enjoying playing Beatrice?
A lot of the play is about alpha males swinging their baldrics around and women following. But Beatrice is counter to that, and that’s what is so marvellous about the show. It’s about an equal relationship, between Beatrice and Benedick. I think old Shakespeare was ahead of his time. She’s spiky, smart, a smartass, funny, quick. The big fear of course is ballsing up on the lines.

She does have a lot of quick-fire lines…
You have to be whipsmart with them. There mustn’t be any air, she’s always on it, on it, on it, on it. It’s a real challenge for a perimenopausal woman. I’m not going to lie to you. Nudging 50 and all I want to do is sit in the dressing room, do some crochet and put on a pair of slippers. But it’s good for the brain.

You’ll also be prepping for Company later this year, were you a fan of the musical?
I can’t tell you how excited I am. I saw the one at the Donmar Warehouse with Adrian Lester and was totally blown away by it. I obviously knew Sondheim’s work from West Side Story but I had worshipped him from afar. But that show in 1996 was a turning point. I have been a massive Sondheim fan ever since, and the fact that he might actually come to see Company

He likely will, he tries to see all major stagings of his works…
I had a massive brown trouser moment when I was in the frame for playing the part of Sarah for Company. I met Marianne [Elliott, the director] who is brilliant and she asked me to do a little sing-song round the piano with the musical director Joel. He said: Stephen will be personally OK-ing everybody in the cast. And I thought: ‘Oh sh*t, my CV is going to be floating past Stephen Sondheim and on it will be 8 Out of 10 Cats and British Bake Off‘. I thought there wasn’t a cat’s chance in hell I was going to get the part.

Do you miss Bake Off?
It was seven tremendous years, which gave us so much pleasure and Sue and I a really good friend in Mary Berry. I’m not going to lie, I have the odd moment when I think: ‘Oh my god they’re doing the semi-final, whose show stopper has collapsed? Who’s doing the thing that’s too intricate with chocolate?’ But I think it’s good to leave these things on a high and keep being challenged. Otherwise you can get a bit stale, to use a terrible pun. It’s good to leave the party when the sandwiches haven’t quite curled around the edges. I feel very lucky that 2018 is the year of the boards, it’s been a bit of time since I’ve devoted this much time to it and it is a bloody joy.

Going back to Much Ado, do you think Beatrice can bake and if so what would she bake?
I know exactly what she’d bake. She’d bake something really hard like rock cake which would look horribly tasteless and you’d put your teeth around the rock cake and your first taste sensation is chilli and then you’d bite into the centre and it’s praline chocolate.

Do you have a favourite musical?
Jesus Christ Superstar. JCS. Oh yes.

Did you see the recent production at Regent’s Park?
Four times. We had the record on vinyl. My brother is nine years older than me and a real muso and he passed a lot of his musical tastes onto me. He was obsessed with JCS when he was 16 and I was seven, and I listened to it after school every day. I literally was obsessed, I did all the moves, I knew all the songs backwards.

Is there a particular role that you would love to play?
In keeping with Marianne doing a bit of gender swapping, I would like her to do an all-female version of Jesus Christ Superstar and I would like to play Caiaphas, so I get to stand on the scaffolding with the enormous black hat and sing: "He is dangerous". I think that would be so brilliant. I’m going to talk to Marianne about it, on the first day of rehearsals.

Much Ado About Nothing runs at the Rose Theatre in Kingston from 18 April to 6 May with previews from 13 April.
Company opens at the Gielgud Theatre in the West End in September.