Operation Mincemeat– Southwark Playhouse, London

Reviewer: Sonny Waheed

Book, Music & Lyrics: SpitLip (David Cumming, Felix Hagan, Natasha Hodgson & Zoe Roberts)

Director: Donnacadh O’Briain

Choreographer: Jenny Arnold

 It must be a troublesome time when you feel that, for a musical comedy, you must turn to military strategy for inspiration. However, in this instance, it is inspired rather than troublesome.

For Operation Mincemeat is just that. A comic musical based on Operation Mincemeat, a true military deception strategy the British used to help take control of Sicily towards the end of World War II.

Set in 1943, when Nazi forces pretty much had run over mainland Europe. Allied forces were struggling to control the enemy forces: an invasion of France was deemed impossible at the time, but Southern Europe gave a glimmer of hope. Using Allied troops from North Africa the aim was to take control of Sicily to help open-up the Mediterranean Sea to Allied troops. However significant German troops based there made this a highly risky proposition.

British Intelligence deemed a deception strategy was required to convince the Germans to remove their troops from Sicily and leave it open for Allied forces. And so, Operation Mincemeat was devised: take a dead body, pretend it’s an officer in the Royal Marines, throw him off the coast of Spain with a briefcase of fake invasion plans, and hope those plans reach the enemy and they believe them.

Operation Mincemeat (the musical, not the military strategy) is a brilliantly devised and wonderfully funny, production that takes a more, if possible, farcical look at these outlandish events. There is much to admire about this production.

The ensemble cast of David Cumming, Claire-Marie Hall, Natasha Hodgson, Jak Malone and Zoe Roberts, is equally brilliant. The show, interestingly, uses counter-gender casting for many roles –male characters played by female actors, but presenting as male, and vice-versa – to great effect. Despite the initial double-take at this, it delivers both a funnier and more emotionally engaging representation.

In addition to their core characters, the cast seamlessly take on a plethora of roles throughout the show, and give the production a much bigger narrative reach than you’d expect from a 5-person cast. Special credit must be given to the director and choreographer for some truly ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ on stage transformations. Using sleight of hand, misdirection, strategic lighting, hiding behind props, and a host of other diversions, the actors change characters a multitude of times on stage. This fluidity gives the limited cast the ability to represent a far wider range of characters, but also gives the production an energy that keeps the narrative bubbling along at great pace.

The set is spartan, to say the least. But this seems to have ignited director Donnacadh O’Briain’s creativity. The characters’ movement, the use of simple props and costume, and effective lighting, gives a very theatrical feeling that belies the small space and simple staging. Moreover, O’Briain has wonderfully pitched the verbal comedy from the script with some lovely touches of physical humour that gives the whole production another comedic dimension.

 The music is also to be commended. The songs in Operation Mincemeat runs the gamut of musical styles from 1940’s Jazz to Hip Hop, via sea shanties, ragtime, and disco, all brilliantly, and harmoniously, performed. The songs are, in their own way, infectious and, very often, wildly funny; the introduction of the Nazis, singing ‘goose step to the left and jump to the far right’ to Beastie Boys inflected tune, is one of many joys. But there’s also some moments of great pathos here too, where we experience some of the emotional turmoil of war.

Operation Mincemeat is a triumph in so many ways. It is a triumph of creativity, pitch-perfectly performed, loaded with great songs and is very, very, funny.

Runs until 18 September 2021



Summary phrase:

The Reviews Hub Score

Musical comedy at its best

The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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