When I saw the film ‘Operation Mincemeat’, read the book, or even heard about one of the most bizarre incidents to come out of MI5 in World War II, my reaction was never ‘I wonder how this would look as a full length musical’. The team at SplitLip did have this idea, and I have to say I couldn’t be happier that they did.
The original show creators (David Cumming, Felix Hagan, Natasha Hodgson & Zoë Roberts) plus additional actors donned the stage at the Fortune Theatre and had my attention captivated from the moment they stood on stage. It is clear that the creators of this show have a keen eye for detail, that every lyric, every piece of dialogue, the set, the costumes were all crafted with not only precision, but with comedy in mind. I have already booked my tickets to return and see the show again as I know there were easter eggs that went over my head.
Yes the theatre is old and run-down and in need of a revamp, something which was supposed to happen, but due to the success of Operation Mincemeat and it having been extended time after time, it hasn’t had the opportunity. However, I’m not here to review the theatre. The programme for the show is inviting and gives the audience a glimpse behind the magicians cloth without trying to force another west end show down your throat (as so many of the others do, honestly, sometimes I feel like I’ve paid £7 to look at adverts for shows I’ve already seen too much of on billboards!). There is also several opportunities to scan a QR code on the wall, which allows you to complete a history quiz whilst you wait for the show to begin - I won’t spoil the content but they really have made history quirky and fun!
The Show itself is centred around Charles Cholmondeley (David Cumming) and Ewen Montagu (Natasha Hodgson), who pitch and then undertake the plan of having a dead body wash up on the shore of Sardinia in the hope to lure the Nazis away from Sicily. David Cumming manipulates his body in the same way that Jim Carey can contort his face, his movements and characterisation of each one of the people he portrays is to be highly commended. All the clever twists and turns in the story are punctuated by musical numbers, the cast are quick to tell the audience they’re not all trained actors and singers, but it didn’t matter. The songs were cleverly written by the team to allow for their vocal shortcomings, without the need for difficult and strenuous ballads, it was almost relieving to not have the expected middle aged woman belting half way through act 2.
Standing out as my favourite cast member is Jak Malone, his portrayal of Bernard Spilsbury was side-splittingly brilliant, his expressive face and timing was on point. Jak also provided me with the first time I had cried at a musical in almost 4 years, with his rendition of the song ‘Dear Bill’, a love letter written to the fictional RAF pilot. This still, simple and chilling performance was a moment I wanted to bottle up and keep forever, it goes to show you don’t need all the singing and dancing and showmanship that some musicals provide to tell a story and to tell it well. The show ended with a glittery finale, again I will not spoil this for those who haven’t seen it but, the simple and effective set shifts into a parody of what most people expect a musical finale to look like, and this sideways look at the musical genre really had me smiling as a follow thespian.
Now it wouldn’t be a review without finding a criticism for the performance, and believe me I know this is scraping the barrel in terms of criticism, but I just wish it was a little bit louder. I wasn’t straining to hear, or struggling to understand at all, the performers were very professional in their delivery, I just know that things are better enjoyed when they’re louder, and feel like this could have made some of the silences even more poignant. See I told you it was a barrel scraping negative!
In reality I haven’t stopped banging the drum for Operation Mincemeat since I have seen it, I’ve been to see 6 shows between seeing the show and writing this review, and can honestly say none of them have even come close to milking the level of serotonin this amazing group of people have. I heavily and heartily recommend the show, I cannot wait to come back to London to see it again, and once the run (which, has just been extended AGAIN) comes to a close, I hope to see it touring the length and breadth of the UK.
Operation Mincemeat is currently in residence at the Fortune Theatre, London until the 20th of April 2024.