Following multiple sold out runs at the New Diorama, Southwark Playhouse and Riverside Studios, SpitLip’s Operation Mincemeat makes a triumphant debut in the West End, taking over London’s Fortune Theatre, recently vacated by The Woman in Black.
Much like that former tenant, Operation Mincemeat tells a big story on a small stage, and the intimacy of the theatre helps keep that bond between performer and audience that was so evident in the off West End runs.
The real-life story of Operation Mincemeat has become more widely known thanks to various books and a recent star-studded film, “they wouldn’t turn it into a musical,” jokes one of the many characters who are portrayed by a cast of five. Of course, that’s exactly what they have done, and not only is this a musical that’s side-splittingly funny, it also sounds wonderful too.
If you’re not aware of this stranger-than-fiction tale, it concerns a group of MI5 agents who came up with an audacious plan during World War II to fool Hitler into moving thousands of troops away from Sicily so that the allies could access mainland Europe. The plan was already farcical – involving a corpse dumped in the sea and a briefcase of ‘fake official secrets’ – but became even more unbelievable through a series of unforeseen events.
Directed by Robert Hastie, Operation Mincemeat leans into the absurdity, taking every aspect of the mission and injecting it with copious amounts laugh out loud hilarity. One scene sees a Spanish based spy try not to recover a briefcase; it’s choregraphed beautifully with a slick routine that could have come straight from the Morecombe and Wise show.
But there are moments of tenderness too, Jak Malone – playing secretary, Hester – delivers a show-stopping moment near the end of act one with ‘Dear Bill’, a gorgeous ballad about a loved one lost in the war. What makes this show so remarkable is that the music doesn’t really fit into one particular genre, instead each song (originally orchestrated by Felix Hagan) fits perfectly around the particular moment of the story. By the time we reach ‘A Glitzy Finale’ the company throws everything they’ve got at us, and it’s as moving as it is inspiring.
David Cumming is delightful as Charles Cholmondely, the creator of the plan who lacked the confidence to push himself forward. Cumming’s very physical performance lends itself to the intense multi-rolling. Claire-Marie Hall’s character, Jean Leslie gives us a glimpse off how women were treated in the service, and highlights how underappreciated their efforts often were. While Zoë Roberts delights in various guises.
Natasha Hodgson as Ewen Montagu is particularly fun to watch, bringing the old-boys network into sharp focus, because this is a musical that very astutely pokes fun at the British government and the wider establishment. Operation Mincemeat also defies gender norms not just in the main characters, but in many of the supplementary roles too.
It’s very clear to see why this new British musical has seen such success, and has already amassed an army of loyal fans. The audience reaction on press night was one of overwhelming love for a hard working cast that delivers the goods. Operation Mincemeat is pure joy from start to finish, and a wonderfully unique addition to the West End.
Operation Mincemeat: A New Musical’s extended run is until 19th August 2023 at the West End’s Fortune Theatre. More info and tickets at the Official Box Office OperationMincemeat.com