The story of Operation Mincemeat has been every bit as amazing as the actual story it is based on. Going from strength to strength following an initial run at New Diorama Theatre and THREE sold out runs in Southwark Playhouse, it has now travelled to another venue in London for a new residency - this time at Riverside Studios. I have had friends telling me for years how special this show was but the one time I caught it, it was in the middle of huge rewrites so I didn't get the full effect. Now that it is in its finished form, would I be won over?
Telling the unbelievable true story of the secret mission that won us World War II, Operation Mincemeat involves a lot of plotting, a stolen corpse and panic as the events take various twists along the way - who needs fiction when reality is so much stranger? You may have seen this story on the big screen recently (hilariously acknowledged here as a "much less profitable musical") and while this version may not have Colin Firth, it does have heart, hilarity and music. Musical Theatre 1 - Big Budget Movies 0.
The book, music and lyrics for Operation Mincemeat were all written by SpitLip (consisting of David Cumming, Felix Hagan, Natasha Hodgson and Zoe Roberts) who aim to make "big, dumb musicals" (their words, not mine). Consider this mission a success then as Operation Mincemeat is unashamedly dumb... but cleverly so. At times resembling something out of "Mischief Comedy" and at others feeling like something Showstopper have made up on the spot, the recent rewrites have actually led to a finely tuned intricate show that is far smarter and complex that even it would give itself credit for.
A cast of five take on various roles between them, comically changing back from one to the other with the assistance of a prop or a simple addition of a coat. Natasha Hodgson is delightfully mad as Ewen Montagu while Zoe Roberts takes on a variety of roles including Johnny Bevan and even James Bond creator Ian Fleming in a hilarious turn. Claire-Marie Hall is perhaps the most loveable character as sweet Jean Leslie while Sean Carey has stepped in to the role of Charles Cholmondeley while David Cumming is absent, in a note-perfect performance that would make you think he had been a part of the main cast every night since the beginning.
While all five of the cast are outstanding in their own right, I have to single out Jak Malone for his versatility in the roles he takes on. While he gets laughs (and shivers) as the creepy Spilsbury, its in the main role of Hester where he really shines, providing the heart of the show in an incredibly powerful and poignant moment – the beautiful ‘Dear Bill’. A rare serious moment in a show that veers closer to farce territory, this is what makes it all the more special – performed with sincerity by Jak, it really is a stunning performance.
The songs featured in the show are fairly eclectic sounding – while there are classic musical theatre moments, a more diverse sound is littered throughout the piece with a touch of folk, pop and hip-hop interspersed through more classic numbers. Comparisons to Six and Hamilton feel inevitable, with act 2 featuring a smattering of rap songs that feel oddly familiar.
Directed by Donnacadh O’Brian, Operation Mincemeat doesn’t have any bells and whistles – instead, it relies on a relatively bare-bones set, designed by Helen Coyston, which does wonders in showing what you can do with nothing but a wall full of phones, with surely the hardest working prop door in theatre – wheeled back and forth to cover costume changes. Great lighting from Sherry Coenen particularly in the act 2 opening number sets the scenes perfectly, while choreography from Jenny Arnold is in-keeping with the tongue in cheek tone of the show itself.
The jewel in the crown of this show is its writing. Dead funny, it delicately scratches the surface between slapstick to full on farce, while still retaining a lot of heart when remembering this is a true story where people heroically gave their lives. If I didn’t quite get the hype the first time around, this time I fell in love completely. Feel good fun from start to finish, Operation Mincemeat will ensure a smile is permanently glued to your face.
Operation Mincemeat resumes its run at Riverside Studios from May 31st until July 9th. Tickets from https://riversidestudios.co.uk/see-and-do/operation-mincemeat-23955/