One of the craziest true stories in Britain’s history, ‘Operation Mincemeat’ was a wartime deception that somehow successfully fooled Hitler into changing his invasion plans in 1943, and all thanks to the well-dressed corpse of a homeless man who’d died by ingesting rat poison and was shipped off to Spain with a briefcase full of fabricated documents.
Production company SpitLip got their hands on this fascinating historical nugget, thought “that would make a great musical”, threw in some ‘Monty Python’-style shenanigans alongside the catchy tunes, and the result is a brilliantly entertaining show that is playing right now at the Southwark Playhouse, after enjoying successful runs in 2020 and 2021 following its 2019 debut at the New Diorama Theatre.
‘Operation Mincemeat’ is the madcap brainchild of the SpitLip creative team, made up of David Cumming, Felix Hagan, Natasha Hodgson and Zoe Roberts, who collectively wrote the book, music and lyrics. Their talent doesn’t just end there, as three of them also perform in the show as well. That is part of what makes this show work, that it’s been created by such a small team who know this story and these characters so well, and this consistently reaps fantastic rewards for the audience.
To reveal any of the plot would be to spoil the fun, but it’s an engaging story told well. The plot comes thick and fast through snappy scenes, clever lyrics and a witty book. It does require concentration to easily follow along, and occasionally it does feel like the pace could do with lessening to allow the piece to breathe a bit more, but then being taken along for the ride is half the fun. It’s definitely a story and show that will withstand multiple viewings and reveal subtle new discoveries each time.
Director Donnacadh O’Briain’s staging is simple but clever, using the space dynamically to make the production feel larger than it is, and Jenny Arnold’s choreography is slick and precise, with every actor’s movement and positioning impeccably timed. This makes the production run like a well-oiled machine and sweeps the audience up in its storytelling. The pace does seem to lag around halfway through the second act, running out of steam a little due to everything that’s come before it, but it ends with a massive smile, and at no point is the audience thinking of looking at their watches.
The cast of five performers are truly skilled actors and comedians, never relaxing for a moment, and they work brilliantly well together. It’s clear how familiar they now are with their roles after the previous runs, fitting them like a glove, and the characterisation by each actor is superb. Everyone shines at one time or another, and they work so hard that it feels cruel to single anyone out, but Jak Malone’s soliloquy ballad “Dear Bill” is a stunning moment in the show, creating pure heartbreak and bringing the audience to absolute silence followed by rapturous applause. Beautifully written and performed, it’s so powerful in its simplicity with a gorgeous melody and heartfelt sentiment, and worth the ticket price alone.
It’s a shame it’s only a 5-week run, as there is so much to enjoy here, it deserves to have as long a life as possible. Let’s hope that it will be given further chances in the future, and if so, that it’s kept along the same intimate lines, as they give the show its charm. It doesn’t need a bigger cast, band or production values; some shows suit being smaller to properly shine, and ‘Operation Mincemeat’ is a beacon of fun to be had.
Also worth a mention is Southwark Playhouse’s excellent “Pay As You Go” credit scheme, which allows customers to buy bundles of 5 tickets for £60, to then use as payment for upcoming shows. These credits never expire and work out to £12 per show, which is an absolute bargain for the quality of shows that the Southwark Playhouse produce and put on. It also helps bring immediate cash into the theatre so is a great way of supporting them.
‘Operation Mincemeat’ runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 19th February (Monday to Saturday at 7.30pm, matinees on Tuesday and Saturday at 3pm). Performance runtime is 2.5 hours including interval. Tickets can be found at https://www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/southwark-playhouse/operation-mincemeat/ or visit the Operation Mincemeat website at www.OperationMincemeat.com
Reviewer: Robert Bartley
Reviewed: 18th January 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★