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Review of Operation Mincemeat: A New Musical

We (and when I say we, I do of course mean I) watch Marvel Action movies, and films like “Peter Rabbit”, where animals can talk and conspire together to overthrow the man, and while they are fetched and in fact totally unbelievable, we enjoy them and the story they tell. Sometimes though, things happen in the real world which are not only unbelievable but are so implausible, a Hollywood scriptwriter would never write them for fear of losing all credibility. So it is with Operation Mincemeat which, after a triumphant run off West End, has finally hit the big time at London’s Fortune Theatre.

Operation Mincemeat - Left to right is Jak Malone, Zoe Roberts, Natasha Hodgson, David Cumming and Claire-Marie Hall. Credit Matt Crockett.
Operation Mincemeat – Left to right are Jak Malone, Zoe Roberts, Natasha Hodgson, David Cumming, and Claire-Marie Hall. Credit Matt Crockett.

It’s 1943 and Hitler is sitting pretty. Whilst the attack on Russia has started within Europe, he is the master. His troops occupy every country, and he is assured that there is nowhere for the allies to attempt an invasion except through the Italian island of Sicily. Since Adolph has one hundred thousand, or so, troops based on the island, ready to defend it, he feels pretty safe and secure. Back in London, at MI5 headquarters Johnny Bevan (Zoë Roberts) has asked his crack team to devise a plan that will convince the Germans the invasion is going to take place on Sardinia rather than Sicily. The finest group of public school-educated male brains immediately take up the challenge and pitch their ideas to Bevan. After having their initial idea turned down, Ewen Montagu (Natasha Hodgson) teams up with under-confident scientist and general swot Charles Cholmondeley (David Cumming) to pitch an idea so audacious and out of left field that Bevan feels it might just work and green lights it. And so Operation Mincemeat is born. It’s a simple enough plan. Find a body that has drowned – preferably with no friends or relations – drop them off the coast of Spain, dressed in military uniform and with a briefcase full of the ‘invasion’ plans for Sardinia. Make sure it all looks like just another plane has gone down and finally, make sure the plans get back to Germany. Montagu and Cholmondeley are joined by spinster and proverbial old warhorse Hester Leggett (Jak Malone) and Jean Leslie (Claire-Marie Hall) a new girl in the department who hasn’t quite grasped what her role a women in a man’s world is – making tea, taking notes, and being propositioned, and the teamwork on the details of Operation Mincemeat. With a hundred and one things that could go wrong and a team leader who doesn’t exactly believe in sweating the details, can the operation be put into place, and will it deliver the movement of German troops away from Sicily required to allow the invasion to proceed?

Operation Mincemeat is the debut show of SpitLip production company. The four SpitLip founders (Natasha Hodgson, David Cumming, Zoë Roberts, and Felix Hagan) wrote the book, music and lyrics for the show and have delivered an absolutely amazing production that is probably destined to be picking up many statuettes come awards season.

From the moment the band struck up the opening number ‘Born to Lead’ I knew I was going to enjoy Operation Mincemeat. The lyrics of that song are perfect for setting up the environment of the show and the type of people we are dealing with. These are all ‘establishment’. Wealthy backgrounds, privately educated, and with a sense of entitlement that means that rules apply to other people and not to them, these were the leaders of the land in 1943. The fact that the story, and people, are based on real events make the whole thing even more enjoyable as a wonderful example of British eccentricity and ingenuity. Every person we saw existed and given the social hierarchy of the UK; was probably very similar to the way they were portrayed. And when I say every person, I mean more than the five mentioned above. The cast played so many characters, from nineteenth-century cockney shoeshine boys to an arrogant American pilot, via a very sweaty British consulate official who very nearly wrecked the whole operation simply by following orders. This performance was completely genderless with men playing women and vice-versa, and it really works. Since its transfer onto the West End, the show has got bigger giving Set & Costume Designer Ben Stones room to create something magnificent with a very basic looking back wall of the type of operations map you can see in any world war two movie, but which hides a multitude of secrets – none of which I’m prepared to give away. Considering how many characters each actor played, the costumes felt right for the time though I did wonder about the RAF cap, particularly as the body used in Mincemeat was dressed as a Royal Marine and referred to as Major at one point. However, for once, military inaccuracy can be overlooked and ignored because in the overall scheme of things, this confusion didn’t make a jot of difference to my total enjoyment of the show. Director Robert Hastie and Choreographer Jenny Arnold work the team like crazy and make full use of the stage and moveable elements of the set to create a vibrant and engaging show.

Highlights for me? Well, there were many, and with such a wonderful cast it’s difficult to pick out just one but, I have to say Jak Malone’s performance of ‘Dear Bill’ and the story that the character Hetty told in that song was one of the most poignant moments I’ve ever witnessed in musical theatre. As the song developed, the story was so moving and emotional, you literally couldn’t hear a pin drop at the end, until the audience exploded into a roar of applause that could have gone on forever. A superb performance that totally captured the essence of Hetty and so many like her. I’m also going to mention the opening of Act II which, no spoilers, left me feeling like I did after seeing ‘Springtime for Hitler’ in The Producers for the first time. I know I shouldn’t enjoy this, but I just can’t help myself.

So, yes both my companion Helen and I absolutely loved Operation Mincemeat. From ‘Born to Lead’ to ‘A Glitzy Finale’, this show got everything right. While the story it told may have happened eighty years ago, elements still exist today. White, men who believe it is their destiny, through breeding and teaching, to rule the masses. Deference to those deemed to be higher in the social order. Women being seen as second class in the workplace, and barmy ideas that make no sense but go ahead regardless – remember the Garden Bridge? These still exist in twenty-first-century Britain.

Operation Mincemeat is the ultimate example of what amazing musical theatre can be. It’s everything you would want from a musical. The songs are great – original cast recording coming out on the 12th of May – the story is amazing (because it’s true) and the cast terrific in every sense. It’s not often you see an audience as one leap cheering and clapping to their feet as the curtain comes down but that’s what happened last night, and I know as I was one of those clapping my heart out. If this is SpitLip’s debut production, I can’t wait to see what they do next. I know I use the word a lot, but Operation Mincemeat takes awesomeness to a whole new level.

5 Star Rating

Review by Terry Eastham

The hilarious and sharp-witted musical that tells the story of a real-life – and extremely bizarre – WWII operation, has arrived in London’s West End, after a string of critically acclaimed fringe shows. Now at the Fortune Theatre for a limited season, tickets for Operation Mincemeat: A New Musical are available now!

Fortune Theatre
Wed 29 Mar – Sat 19 Aug 2023
29 Russell St, London, WC2B 5HH, UK
2 hours 20 minutes incl. interval

Operation Mincemeat: A New Musical is at Fortune Theatre from Monday 24th April, 2023 to Saturday 19th August, 2023.

View all shows booking now at Fortune Theatre.

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