After being staged at Southwark Playhouse and the Riverside Studios, Operation Mincemeat has arrived in the West End for a limited run.
The musical comedy with book, music and lyrics by comedy theatre troupe SpitLip (consisting of David Cumming, Felix Hagan, Natasha Hodgson and Zoe Roberts) is based on the Second World War British deception operation in 1943.
So yes, this is a musical about a military operation that involved floating the corpse of a pretend British Officer, Major William Martin, off the coast of Spain. Complete with a briefcase containing personal effects and more importantly, correspondence that suggested the allied forces were planning to invade Greece and Sardinia instead of the true target, Sicily. Operation Mincemeat tells the story from the point of view of those hatching the plan. I know, it sounds like a heavy production, but it is not. Despite the serious plot, this piece is simply joyous.
The team at SplitLip have crafted a gleeful and heart-warming show that pays homage to both classic and modern musicals.
It is packed with an incredible number of gags and catchy numbers, all powered by one of the hardest-working casts in London right now: Natasha Hodgson, David Cumming, Zoë Roberts, Jak Malone and Claire-Marie Hall.
Between the five of them, they tell the absorbing story all whilst performing as MI5 officers, typists, coroners, bar staff, submarine crews, American pilots, and fabulous dancing Nazis, to name but a few. They swap roles and gender seamlessly, adding to the charm and leaving plenty of room for the cartoonish and humorous elements in many of the characters to flourish.
Natasha Hodgson is one of those who leans most in the cartoonish nature and she does so superbly. As Ewen Montagu, who formed much of the driving force behind the operation, she commands the space easily through aggressive swagger and confidence. Forming a fine double act with Hodgson is David Cumming as Charles Cholmondeley, co-conspirator with Montagu. Their performances complement one another wonderfully, with Carey bringing more understated charm and likability.
Alongside the laughs, the show is genuinely touching: at the end of the day, we are talking about war and we cannot forget the casualties. One of the most heartfelt moments of the show emerges towards the end of Act One through Jak Malone as Hester Leggett when he delivers the beautiful number where Hester sings about William Martin’s fictional fiancé, followed by her own lost love. The melody and lyrics are tender and incredibly powerful, matched exquisitely with Malone’s stellar voice and performance.
Zoë Roberts and Claire-Marie Hall bring the rest of the humour and effervescence needed in this production. Roberts's facial expressions and eyebrow work are second to none and Hall makes a fantastic Jean Leslie, a typist who breaks barriers to become part of the mincemeat team. All five cast members work tirelessly, barely leaving the stage for the entire show and therefore forming such a dedicated unit with no weak link.
Amusing and clever choreography is provided by Jenny Arnold to match the energy of the music and there is some excellent lighting design from Henderson that works hard to enhance the static (until the final number) stage. Ben Stones’ costume design is effective in subtly boosting the differentiation between the plethora of characters. Some of the songs, especially in the second act, feel unnecessary, and I think the show may be half-hour shorter. Still, it is good fun.
Operation Mincemeat does a really good job of managing macabre humour in a mostly cheerful musical with catchy numbers, witty jokes and a smart script. I suspect it is going to be with us for a long time.
It runs until 19 August.
Photo: Matt Crockett