If Victoria Wood and Eric Idle wrote a musical about World War Two, in the style of Hamilton – you’d be somewhere in the region of Operation Mincemeat.
I first became aware of this show in 2019 when it was reviewed for me at the New Diorama Theatre. It went on to be shortlisted for Best Off-West End Show at the 2019 West End Wilma awards (but lost out to Little Shop of Horrors at the Open Air Theatre). Further productions took place at Southwark Playhouse in 2020, 2021 & 2022, and then a stint at Riverside Studios. Earlier this year, after The Woman in Black closed in the West End after 33 years, Operation Mincemeat finally made its inevitable move into the West End where it has been selling out every night at the Fortune Theatre.
Operation Mincemeat is a fast-paced, hilarious and unbelievable true story of the twisted secret mission that won us World War II using a false identity, a dead corpse and determination to out-wit Hitler.
This ensemble cast play multiple, gender-bending roles and it is clear to see why this refreshingly British comedy has gained a cult following who return night after night to see the show.
Christian Andrews steals the show as Hester Leggatt, with the heartfelt rendition of ‘Dear Bill’ (a song I have not stopped listening to since) where we see the softer side of a hard-nosed office busybody, lamenting about the unfortunate side of falling in love during a war. Natasha Hodgson (Ewen Montagu) and Zoë Roberts (Johnny Bevan) – two of the creators of the show, give flawless performances, whilst Seán Carey adds quirkiness as Charles Cholmondeley and Claire-Marie Hall has stunning vocals as Jean Leslie.
Operation Mincemeat: A New Musical has extended its West End run for the sixth time through 15th June 2024 and I am sure it will continue and have a very good life in the West End where it belongs. British theatre at its finest.
Reviewed by West End Wilma
REVIEW by Nicole Faraday – New Diorama Theatre, 2019 ★★★★★
My review might make you assume that I know people in this production, or am in some way associated with the company but I can assure you I am not, but as a jobbing actress, I wish I was.
Watching Splitlip’s “Operation Mincemeat” a musical comedy interpretation of a factual, yet improbable, wartime event that ostensibly helped the allies win the war, was exhilarating and felt like an absolute privilege. It is the first time that I have been in the audience of a new piece of writing like this, that was so engaging and deserving of a wider audience that I feel sure it will be (if there is any justice in the world) the next big thing.
The company “Splitlip” comprising of David Cumming, Felix Hagan, Natasha Hodgson and Zoe Roberts, wrote, composed and performed the piece, alongside the equally talented Jak Malone and Rory Furey-King. The book musical is based on factual events of a little known wartime coup, involving the deception of the Nazis with deliberate placement of the body of a homeless man on a Spanish beach, given a false identity with fabricated documents about his person leading the enemy to believe that the Allies planned to invade Greece and Sardinia, disguising the 1943 Allied invasion of Sicily.
When you think of a musical comedy based on the second world war, it immediately conjures images of “Springtime For Hitler” the spoof within Mel Brooks’ musical comedy “The Producers” and yet while it provided endless laughs and faultless comedic performances, this musical told a true story that educated the audience and moved us in equal measure. When Jak Malone (as Hester) sang “her” moving lament, “why did we meet in the middle of a war..what a silly thing for anyone to do” of her beau, it brought tears to my eyes as I thought of all those affected in wartime who knew they may never see their loved ones again.
Women played men and men played women in this musical, with well designed androgynous period costumes by Helen Coyston. The performances were such that you totally bought into the characters and were oblivious to the gender reversal. The actors played multiple roles with panache, truth, wit and flawless accents and I could empathise with them all.
The songs themselves were cleverly written, very well sung, memorable tunes that maintained their originality without being contrived, while giving a nod to many Broadway and West End greats in style. There were songs reminiscent (though not a copy) of Cabaret, Rent, Les Mis, Bugsy Malone, Chicago, Rocky Horror, Jekyll and Hyde and most definitely Hamilton… though (whisper it quietly) I preferred it to Hamilton as I found it easier to follow and heard every word.
One of my favourite television programmes is the BAFTA award winning “Horrible Histories “ with its comedic but informative take on moments in history and this reminded me of that, in style and performance, with a multi talented cast of storytelling musical actors, and I urge anyone with an interest in factual anecdotes, lesser known tales of wartime or indeed just an all round wonderfully entertaining night out, to beg, steal or borrow a ticket before this show becomes the sellout it deserves to be. Bravo.