Words by Kat Mokrynski
Have you ever heard the story of the corpse that helped the British turn the tide against the Nazis in World War II? No? Well, you’re in for a hell of a tale with Operation Mincemeat. Operation Mincemeat states that it is “Singin’ in the Rain meets Strangers On A Train, Noel Coward meets Noel Fielding” – I would argue, instead, that it is Hamilton meets Hangmen, Mel Brooks meets Mischief Theatre. It is witty, quick, and has historical figures rapping and breaking the fourth wall. The show was created by SpitLip, a team made up of David Cumming, Felix Hagan, Natasha Hodgson, and Zoë Roberts (all but Hagan star in the show). With smart choreography by Jenny Arnold, clever sets and costumes designed by Ben Stones, and shocking lighting from Mark Henderson, Operation Mincemeat is a fantastic show
Operation Mincemeat makes the interesting choice of having some of the roles be gender-swapped and others not, raising some questions about gender politics that are left unanswered throughout the show. Natasha Hodgson stars as the swaggering Ewen Montagu, an Eton-taught man who brings the glitz and the glamor to Operation Mincemeat. He is charming, confident, and cocky, a showman using the brains of others to succeed. In the gender-swapped role, Hodgson makes the audience fall in love with both her and Montagu with her incredible comedic timing and fascinating ability to switch from a growly male voice to a higher-pitched singing voice in an instant.
Hodgson is joined by David Cumming, who plays the anxious yet brilliant Charles Cholmondeley, the brains behind the operation. Cumming has you sympathizing with him from the minute he steps on stage, spouting out facts and describing his excitement with strange statements about newts (trust me, it’s one of those things you have to see and hear to believe). Claire-Marie Hall takes on the role of Jean Leslie, a clerk who wants more than a desk job and who sings the fun feminist anthem “All the Ladies.”
At the performance I attended, Geri Allen, one of several understudies in the company, played Johnny Bevan, the British Army Officer in charge of Montagu and the others. Allen plays Bevan like a stressed-out teacher trying to keep her students in line, amusingly encouraging their bright ideas but still attempting to enforce the rules. I also loved Allen’s portrayal of Ian Fleming, the spy who would go on to create the iconic James Bond character (who is lovingly referenced several times throughout the show). Hester Leggett, a senior secretary in MI5, was played by understudy Christian Andrews, who shined as the older woman using her experience to guide the other secretaries and assist the men in ensuring Operation Mincemeat is a success. Andrews did a fantastic job, particularly in the heartbreaking “Dear Bill.”
The show shines in its snappy dialogue, bitingly satiric songs, and suddenly heartbreaking moments. Unfortunately, with it being a full-length West End musical, there are some moments that drag on for a bit, leaving me wishing the show was simply a quick one-act piece instead. Some moments, especially those with Bevan rapping like Washington from Hamilton appear more as copies of the original rather than parodies as the creators may have hoped. I would have loved to see more moments like “Just For Tonight” and “A Glitzy Finale” that takes advantage of the whole cast and use their talents brilliantly.
Ultimately, Operation Mincemeat is a brilliant new musical that will have people leaving saying “God, that’s brilliant!” It has been a thrill to see its successes over the past months and I cannot wait to see what happens next to this incredible show.
Operation Mincemeat runs at the Fortune Theatre with tickets currently available through 19 April. Tickets can be purchased here.