Operation Mincemeat - Fortune Theatre
The dictionary definition of organised chaos, Operation Mincemeat is rapidly farcical and beautifully satirical all wrapped up in a warm and compassionate bundle that could melt an iceberg. Rarely can a show handle the high-speed hijinks of instantaneous transitions between laugh-out-loud comedy and tear-jerking moments of stillness, but Mincemeat does so with ease. This latest musical addition to London’s West End is a beacon of what is possible when homegrown talent is allowed to flourish and god it is brilliant!
Telling the story of the World War Two operation, also covered in the film of the same name (move over Colin), that is too far-fetched and ludicrous to be imagined when British Intelligence seeks to deceive the German military by convincing them that the Allies will invade Sardinia and not Scilly. The harebrained scheme involved floating a corpse dressed as an RAF pilot off the coast of Spain, with false military documents handcuffed to his wrist and the hopeful expectation that the supposedly neutral Spanish authorities would pass them along to the Nazi high command. With so many elements to go wrong and with tens of thousands of lives at stake, on both sides, were the English public school boys of British Intelligence up to the task?
In hindsight this story was obviously destined to be a comedy, the plot is far too preposterous to remain entirely serious. The script is magnificently quick-witted and fun, succinctly driving the plot forward with no wasted beats. David Cummings delivers impeccable physical comedy as the hunched Charles Cholmondeley, his facial expressions working overtime as Charles struggles to find his voice amongst the guffawing of his peers. The detail and accuracy of the script, score and performances are immaculate as reoccurring motifs and nods are scattered throughout ensuring the rewatch value remains high.
The music itself is fantastically varied, skilfully taking inspiration from existing musicals but firmly holding its own on the big stage. Leaping between outrageous comedic numbers such as ‘God That’s Brilliant’ and ‘Das Übermensch’ (imagine an outlandish crossover between Eurovision and dancing Nazis), to uplifting, inspirational hits like ‘All The Ladies’ in which Claire-Marie Hall knocks the vocals out of the park and the utterly devastating ‘Dear Bill’ where Jak Malone ever so delicately brings the house down. The sincerity of this ballad is a profound cumulation of thoughtful lyrics, balletic melody and flawless delivery that cuts through the madness of the show to produce a moment of heart-wrenching tranquillity - a personal highlight.
The gender-blind casting is a fantastic addition to this production. It moves far beyond being a comedic tool, instead simply utilising the skillset of the cast to enable the best storytelling. Zoë Roberts makes for a brash Johnny Bevan and a lively Haselden who is tasked with keeping up the appearance that the British want the lost documents back whilst battling his own incompetence. Natasha Hodgson completes the cast as the gravelly, growling Montagu whose atomic levels of self-confidence push the mission forwards, willing to risk it all for glory and a good time. This multi-roling ensemble are diligent, adding depth and details into each of their many characters, never once switching off. If there was an award for the hardest working cast, I know who I’d bet on to win.
This being the fourth iteration of Operation Mincemeat, having started its life at the seventy-seater New Diorama Theatre, there have been some big changes along the way - none more noticeable than the delight that is their new West End worthy set from Ben Stones. Stones has devised a set that is not only practical but one that is jam-packed with surprises, most of which are revealed during the incredibly ‘glitzy finale’. The lighting design too has risen to the occasion, Mark Henderson’s work neatly matching the riotous or melancholic tones when called upon.
Through all the reckless escapades, the SpitLip company manage to maintain an empathetic view on the context of this deception operation. The members of British Intelligence are living their best lives, personally risking very little whilst the majority of the country is risking it all, hundreds of thousands laying down their lives for their country. It aptly draws parallels to how government still functions today as we saw through incidents such as Partygate (a surprise birthday cake does make an appearance). The skill at which the team have crafted an evening so joyous yet so poignant is masterful, with the multiple iterations and reworking paying off. On the face of it, Operation Mincemeat may be the most unlikely comedy musical but it is the perfect tonic for troubled times, and long may it reign on the West End or wherever its travels take it. A rip-roaring success in every department.
You have your orders, go and see this show!
Booking until 19 August - Tickets
Photography - Matt Crockett