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Operation Mincemeat at the New Diorama Theatre | Review

Operation Mincemeat - Photo credit Alex Harvey-Brown.
Operation Mincemeat – Photo credit Alex Harvey-Brown.

This show is a belter! You will be taken from giggles to goose-bumps and back again and feel all the better for it. Witty, toe-tapping and thoroughly mesmerising, the only time your mind will drift is when you start fantasy-shuffling the original cast recording for your trip home and realise it’s not yet available – dammit! At which point you will then want immediate reassurance that this inspired and tight musical gets a big investor and a West End transfer because otherwise there is no justice in the world.

A complete and highly polished work with soaring voices and a wondrous score derived of deliberately anachronistic musical origins, thoughts of Hamilton may come to mind but they won’t last long – it’s because this production is placed squarely in the world of modern and high-quality musical theatre. Like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s global hit, this show is both knowing and truthful and harmonic and melodious, but that’s where the similarities end. This show is intimate, conspiratorial and the apotheosis of musical-comedy – eschewing the grandeur of ambition of a history re-telling (even though it’s set in a particular moment of history: WWII). Operation Mincemeat is not a ‘message play’ but it artfully tells a true story with lashings of human absurdity making it recognisable, funny, vaguely unsettling and increasingly topical without specificity. Thank goodness for the song and dance numbers lest we think too much! This is 100% entertainment and an absolute steal of an evening’s entertainment at £18 a ticket.

This show’s pitch-perfect wackiness reminded me of 2006 Tony-award-winner The Drowsy Chaperone which began its life some eight years earlier in the Toronto Fringe thanks to the imagination and talent of an ensemble sketch troupe. Producer David Mirvish expanded the production in Toronto at which point Kevin McCollum saw its potential, bought the rights and swept the boards on Broadway and elsewhere for years to come. Kevin, are you listening?

Gazing down in the New Diorama’s studio space, I couldn’t help but long for the big budget and big house this show deserves but feel privileged to witness the origins of something with a great future. This space is intimate but exquisitely employed. Helen Coyston’s set design gives a grandeur, focus and texture to the black box space. She brilliantly employs stalagmites and stalactites of red, white and blue telephone receivers and wires to frame the space and create functional mood and moment changes. Sherry Coenen’s lighting design is top-notch and effective. Using traditional spot focus to great effect for one of the most moving numbers, she shows her range and imagination by also delivering immersive thrills of submerging submarines or raving Nazis in a barnstorming second act opener that needs to be seen.

Whilst I sincerely hope this show gets developed into a bigger production, it is a perfectly formed delight as it is. It’s a treat to see this comically-gifted cast’s facial expressions up-close and the intensely clever production design working so hard; not to mention the particular thrill of quadruple threat singing-dancing-acting-creating David Cumming (Cholmondeley), Natasha Hodgson (Montagu) and Zoe Roberts (Bevan) prove they are some of the most talented and hardest working people in show business today. Fellow SpitLip composer and artist, Felix Hagan, is also on stage leading the band and offers a charismatic presence.

Jak Malone, who plays Hester, is not one of the members of SpitLip but his performance is superlative. His chemistry gels wonderfully with the troupe and his sublime tenor delivers a ballad that was not met with ‘whoops’ but with sniffles as the audience composed itself before offering the rapturous applause his number deserved. His vocal delivery and portrayal in song sent chills to the spine and tears to the eyes – building from a screwball frustrated love scene into something altogether surprising, different and transcendent. Malone’s acting is committed and masterful: his spoken voice is equally well-tuned and expressive and his physicality transforms from a fusty civil service matron to a Scottish submarine captain in seconds and utterly believable (as well as into other characters and back again).

The other cast member who is not one of the SpitLip creators is Rory Furey-King. She offers a charming comic delivery in many moments but in the presence of a supernova voice like Natasha Hodgson’s (for whom I will now look for concert dates on the strength of exposure to her magnificent singing), Furey-King acquits herself but doesn’t shine to the extent of the others.

David Cumming as Cholmondeley is hilarious and in possession of a wonderful singing voice, as is Zoe Roberts as Bevan. Roberts also gives some side-splitting acting turns as other characters, especially the sweaty operative of Huelva.

Operation Mincemeat is more than a treat. It’s a masterpiece in the making. Whatever you’re doing, make sure you get to the New Diorama Theatre by 15th June.

5 Star Rating

Review by Mary Beer

The year is 1943 and we’re losing the war. Luckily, we’re about to gamble all our futures on a stolen corpse.
Operation Mincemeat is the fast-paced, hilarious and unbelievable true story of the twisted secret mission that won us World War II. The question is, how did a well-dressed corpse wrong-foot Hitler?

Operation Mincemeat is Singin’ In The Rain meets Strangers On A Train, Noel Fielding meets Noel Coward, in a new collaboration between three members of award-winning Kill the Beast and glam-punk composer Felix Hagan.

Written and composed by SpitLip.

SpitLip are David Cumming, Felix Hagan, Natasha Hodgson & Zoe Roberts.

Cholmondeley – David Cumming
Montagu – Natasha Hodgson
Jean – Rory Furey-King
Hester – Jak Malone
Bevan – Zoe Roberts

Musical Director & Keys – Felix Hagan
Bass Guitar & Synth – Ellen O’Reilly
Drums – Lewis Jenkins

Creative Team
Set & Costume Designer – Helen Coyston
Lighting Designer – Sherry Coenen
Sound Designer – Dan Balfour
Sound Operation – Marcello Coppola
Stage Manager – Eppie Conrad

New Diorama
14 May – 15 June, 2019


  • Mary Beer

    Mary graduated with a cum laude degree in Theatre from Columbia University’s Barnard College in New York City. In addition to directing and stage managing several productions off-Broadway, Mary was awarded the Helen Prince Memorial Prize in Dramatic Composition for her play Subway Fare whilst in New York. Relocating to London, Mary has worked in the creative sector, mostly in television broadcast and production, since 1998. Her creative and strategic abilities in TV promotion, marketing and design have been recognised with over 20 industry awards including several Global Promax Golds. She is a founder member of multiple creative industry and arts organisations and has frequently served as an advisor to the Edinburgh International TV Festival.

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