Review of Operation Mincemeat: A New Musical
The musical numbers are often delivered at pace, with many of them so wordy it would be a challenge, to say the least, to sing along to them. That in itself is a good reason to pop along to Operation Mincemeat, with showtunes that drive the story forward, such that one isn’t left waiting for a song and dance to finish before the narrative resumes. I must confess I haven’t seen the 2022 motion picture of the same name, or the 1956 movie The Man Who Never Was, about the same story – a plan by MI5 to trick Nazi Germany and her allies into believing the Allied Forces invasion of Sicily in 1943 was going to take place in Sardinia.
Here, the success of the mission allows for a musical theatre happy ending (and a patriotic one at that, which goes well at the time of writing with royalists who have been celebrating the coronation of Charles III). In a sense it’s hard to believe there are just five actors taking a bow at curtain call, because they play so many characters between them that even the show’s programme doesn’t attempt to list them all. The character changes are incredibly swift – at the performance I attended, too swift at one point, requiring a slight costume correction in a late scene, much to the audience’s delight. It’s the sort of ‘error’ that makes a trip to the theatre all the more worthwhile.
I didn’t think there was much room for improvement having seen the show in a previous run at Riverside Studios (by the time I’d heard about it when it was at Southwark Playhouse, the rest of that run was sold out) – and while it has scaled up somewhat for the West End, particularly with regard to lighting (Mark Henderson) and clarity of sound (Mike Walker), it is in one of the smallest West End theatres: the Fortune seats 432. It retains much of its intimate nature, which would almost certainly be lost in, say, the Palladium or the Dominion. The second half opening number felt shorter than it was before, although no less impactful either in its initial reactions by the audience or the punchline which immediately follows the end of the song.
Elsewhere, the storyline has been trimmed slightly, resulting in a leaner and even more engaging experience. There’s gender-swapping galore, with Zoë Roberts’ Johnny Bevan issuing orders to Natasha Hodgson’s Ewen Montagu, who in turn bosses his team about. The production is almost at pains to portray the hierarchy of the British military intelligence as keen to take the credit when things go right and find scapegoats when things don’t. Charles Cholmondeley (David Cumming), as this show would have it, did much of the groundwork and background research required to make Operation Mincemeat feasible. The likes of Montagu and Bevan benefited from public school education, and Cholmondeley didn’t: the musical’s astute observations on the class system are displayed in literal and metaphorical queue-jumping by the already privileged.
For all the driving beats and pulsating rhythms of many of the musical numbers, it is a heartfelt love letter in song, ‘Dear Bill’, sung by Jak Malone’s Hester Leggett, a senior clerk, that gets the most sustained audience applause. Bigger is not always better, and louder is not always stronger – this show knows when less can be more. There are, perhaps, some inevitable comparisons with the likes of Six and Hamilton because of its rapped lyrics. Here’s hoping Operation Mincemeat has the longevity of those shows too – it already seems to have developed a cult following, with patrons making return visits. A passionate, perceptive and phenomenal production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
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!
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.