Operation Mincemeat: A New Musical

Two main questions flit through your mind as you watch SpitLip’s Operation Mincemeat - firstly ‘God it’s brilliant,’ followed quickly by, ‘how are they allowed to do that?’ But the beauty of Operation Mincemeat is that neither its characters or composers - David Cumming, Natasha Hidgson, Zoë Roberts and Felix Hagan - ask permission. With this musical the four have created a daring, ridiculous and unapologetic piece of theatre that leaves us completely credulous in trying to understand just how on earth they created something so sensational and pulled it off.

SpitLip has proven themselves a creative and comedy force to be reckoned with.

With direction by Robert Hastie and choreography by Jenny Arnold, Operation Mincemeat is a musical about the British intelligence operation of the same name. Led by Ewen Montagu (Hodgson) and Charles Cholmondeley (Cumming), they orchestrate a plan to trick the Germans into thinking the British are planning to invade Sardinia, in the luckiest, unimaginable way possible. You simply can’t make this stuff up.

SpitLip has created a show that has an incredible emotional range, enough to give us whiplash, and theyre very good at showing how much the plan could have gone wrong, and how it nearly did. The songs are unforgettable and all of them add to the insanity of this musical and completely hold their own, even though at times it appears SpitLip is in competition with itself to make the next number even better. There’s so much silly humour and self-awareness in this musical, that veers into the slapstick whilst respecting the tone of the context. The comedy is insanely clever and absurd; this musical is a fun space that challenges but doesn’t look to offend in the name of being funny. There’s just so much going on all at once, it’s such an amazing experience to watch it. It’s an incredibly well-written musical, managing to have fun with the source material whilst understanding the gravity of its context. Because there’s a solemnity underpinning the show, despite the high-energy mockery, only doing so in the situations and to the people that deserve it. This solemnity is in the very felt presence of Bill Martin - because he is there, you can feel him throughout the show, meeting him as you would any other character. He’s the sixth member of the cast, and the way that he’s written in is a work of incredible skill, maturity and respect. With Operation Mincemeat, SpitLip has proven themselves a creative and comedy force to be reckoned with.

The atmospheric lighting of Mark Henderson's design brings us in and out of the contrasting and varying emotions. He appears to push the limits of what lighting can do in a musical with very entertaining results. Ben Stones’ set and costume design is deceptively simple and keeps surprising us as the show goes on. His designs are incredibly elegant and detailed, especially the costumes that have a dexterity and dazzle that adds another layer to the comedy and characters. Considering the pace of the costume changes, such attention to detail not helps us track the various characters over the course of the show, but make the changes appear all the more visually entertaining.

The cast of five work incredibly well together, making the fun and joy in their performances is abundantly clear. Through their performance it’s easy to get caught up in the more ‘fun’ aspects of the operation, the glitz and glamor and upbeat dance numbers, bringing a shock to our systems when the tone shifts. The cast’s portrayals of their different characters is incredibly skilled, and we end up meeting a range of personas from caricatures with sly winks to real people who impress upon us the gravity of the task. The speed and ability to completely change instantly from one character to another is astonishing, best exemplified in Just For Tonight, where two contrasting scenes and orchestrations harmonize, yet stand apart before simultaneously increasing in speed and franticness as the tension mounts. The entire cast is extremely talented and they’re performances are spectacular in just about every way that they can be. An honourable mention goes to Jak Malone who, like the others members of the cast oscillates between the serious and satirical, playing characters that range from Hester Leggett to Willie Watkins. But he really shines during the more grounded moments, where he takes on a quiet emotional dignity that spills over to us in Dear Bill, which is such a beautiful song, I don't think I've ever heard a silence like the one during this song. You’d have to be dead inside not to be moved by his performance. But Malone's brief appearances as the Captain of H.M.S. Seraph, Norman Jewell is where the context really hit home for me. Because up to that point, most of the action has been incredibly high-energy, witty repartee, and it's really easy to get swept up in the Ewen Montagu of it all, due to Hodgson's charmingly fun performance that carries so much confidence that nothing can deter her, not even a mic malfunction. But the sheer decency that Malone's character shows, just a bit more respect, care and humanity of that goodbye to Bill, really highlights the calousness of the 'hero' of the story.

Operation Mincemeat is the closest thing we have to a British Hamilton - taking a piece of history that is so embedded in the national consciousness and identity and making it into a high-spirited, accessible musical that every so often ridicules its source material. However, SpitLip has created a musical surpasses even this comparison, because it is just so much more. Unfortunately five stars is the limit, I would happily give many more.

Reviews by Katerina Partolina Schwartz

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Performances

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The Blurb

Singin’ in the Rain meets Strangers on a Train, Noel Coward meets Noel Fielding, Operation Mincemeat is the fast-paced, hilarious and unbelievable true story of the twisted secret mission that won us World War II. The question is, how did a well-dressed corpse wrong-foot Hitler?

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