When the show transfers Natasha will be on stage as part of the cast, alongside David Cumming, Claire-Marie Hall, Jak Malone and Zoë Roberts, while Felix is one of the writers and composers of the production, which is directed by 2023 Olivier Award nominated Robert Hastie.
“We’ve been part of a comedy troupe for a long time,” explains Natasha, “and Felix and I are in a band together. So we merged the two skill sets and decided to embark on the glittery world of musical theatre”.
“Yes, we came across this true story, a spy adventure,” says Felix, “it’s a true World War II scheme cooked up by MI5, and we thought this has comedy musical written all over it.”
Operation Mincemeat had five sold-out development runs at the New Diorama Theatre in 2019 and Southwark Playhouse in 2020, 2021 & 2022, plus an extended Riverside Studios run last summer, but the members of SpitLip say they’re not complacent, “the beautiful thing about writing comedy, is that you’re always chasing this very immediate and very obvious reaction,” says Felix, “so in the process of chasing that, it’s becomes this constant never-ending process of rewriting and recalibration in order to generate as much comedy as we possibly can.”
“Plus it still makes us still absolutely howl with laughter on a daily basis, because the fact that this story actually happened is so unbelievably funny,” adds Natasha.
The team agree that they never imagined the show would have had the success it has had, “most commercial musicals are really big, but we never had the resources to make a very big show,” says Natasha, “but we really wanted to make a ‘Big Show’, and so we took this story of basically five people in MI5 back in World War II, who decided to try and do something enormous with such a small gang.”
Felix says that sometimes people are afraid to take risks in musical theatre, “it can feel like you’re just being shown a kind of machine, albeit a very beautiful glitzy machine. I think you can get quite cynical about musical theatre in that way, because obviously it’s so expensive, I think we really want to be an antidote to that, and we want to show that we are just people who love each other’s company, love making ridiculous, ambitious theatre and trying to do it in a way that brings people with us on a spy caper.”
It’s a relatively small cast for a musical, but Natasha thinks that’s what makes it so appealing to audiences, “We just have such a good time, I think because we know each other really well, we can take the piss and play small inappropriate tricks on each other, and really have that joy of being in control of our own small kingdom on stage, and we’re in the fantastic position of being able to bring audiences into that.”
With the departure of The Woman in Black, Operation Mincemeat will be the first new full-scale production to run at the Fortune Theatre in over thirty years, “we’re incredibly grateful for this opportunity,” says Natasha, “and what’s lovely about being part of the legacy of The Woman in Black is that too was a small cast doing a big story. I think what’s lovely about the Fortune is that it’s this intimate space where you can tell big stories, but you never lose that sense of intimacy.”
“I think that’s the thing for us, we want to keep this as an intimate show between performers and audience, we want people to really see the sweat dripping from our noses and chins as we work incredibly hard.”
Felix explains that Operation Mincemeat will be different to other World War II comedies that audiences may have seen before, “we share a philosophy that we’ve never felt beholden to any genre, we feel like it’s more about having an energy, and that employing many different styles in order to sort of realise that as fully as possible.”
And in composing the music, Felix said he wanted to stick to that philosophy, “it would have been easy to set it all to 1940’s style music, but we are led by comedy and character, and the question became, what style of music works best for this song, scene, or character.”
“We’ve got lovely brassy old style, that kind of jazz from the olden days through to hyper modern pop orientated stuff, and that’s kind of the joyful thing really, there’s something for everybody.”
Natasha says it’s not just the music that will appeal to everyone, “it’s a comedy caper and the ethos of our company has always been we just want to give people a fun, really brilliant night out, where they have catharsis and they can laugh.”
“From the feedback that we’ve got, we’ve heard different generations really enjoying it for different reasons, in some ways it’s this historic story, so people who are into that kind of thing get a lot from that. It’s really accurate, we don’t take a lot of things away from it. But at the same time, it is a critique on the establishment, it takes the piss out of the current government, and the way things are being run.”
From the development stages of the musical Natasha and Felix say they were surprised just how many members of the audience simply didn’t believe that everything in Operation Mincemeat was true, “someone told us that we couldn’t just make stuff up and call it history,” laughs Natasha, “I think even people who’ve seen it a few times still question if bits of it are made up, but there is no ludicrous fact in there that isn’t true. We just don’t need to make anything up, the true story is crazy and hilarious enough.”
“And it’s sort of a gender swapping story, it’s kind of quietly queer, we like to think there’s lots of different roles that are just dismantled and examined and put back together. But at the heart of it, it’s just a really fun, crazy, true story that we completely fell in love with, and we wanted to share the story with people who possibly have no idea it even happened.”
Natasha and Felix are hugely excited to be bringing Operation Mincemeat to the West End, “We have audiences who have been with us right from the very start, seeing the show over and over again, and giving us completely invaluable feedback,” says Felix, “so I’m pleased that we can now do this in the West End as a way of saying thank you.”
“And, it’s an incredible privilege,” adds Natasha, “the fact that we’re going to have this chance to do it in the West End, and have the budget, that actually means we can support the ideas that we’ve always half penciled and half colored in, but had to ask the audience to do so much work with us.”
Natasha says that the company wouldn’t be able to bring the show to the West End now, if it hadn’t been for the support of Fringe venues, “so I’d really encourage people to support local venues, and go and see Fringe stuff, because you just don’t know what you might stumble upon, and you can be really smug with your friends later down the line when it becomes super popular and you saw it first.”
There’s no denying that Operation Mincemeat is a fringe success story, and the team are keen to remove any barriers, “we’ve got a long preview period, with tickets starting at £35, because we want people to be able to come and see what we’ve created.”
“We’ve really tried to make a show that is truthful, honest and emotional but still really funny, that plays with gender norms, and that plays with our expectation of the establishment, but ultimately, is a really good fun night out.”
Operation Mincemeat is at the Fortune Theatre from 29th March. Tickets are on sale here.