Last Updated on 10th May 2023
Paul T Davies reviews Operation Mincemeat, a new musical which has transferred into the West End’s Fortune Theatre.
Soaring into the West End after development runs at the New Diorama and Riverside Studios, this new musical parachutes parcels of delight onto the West End stage, crashing together elements of Six, Carry On, physical comedy, 1950s British war moves and actual history, to create a show of utter originality, energetic and irreverent! It’s a comedy musical cantered around a 1943 mission to convince Hitler that the Allies were about to invade Corsica, moving the German troops out of Cyprus, and, unlikely as it sounds, it centres around the corpse of a homeless man and a briefcase of forged documents. Those documents include letters and receipts that fill in the background of “Bill’s” life and make him real and convincing.
It’s powered by the huge energy of the five performers, who play multiple characters with ease and commitment, featuring the creators of the musical. David Cumming is a toothy joy as Charles Cholmondely, the hapless straight guy and genius behind the project, his physicality a wonder as he morphs between character and gender. Claire Marie Hall is dynamic as Jean Leslie, feminist hero in the making, and Natasha Hodgson is a standout as gravelly-voiced “loud boy” Ewen Montagu. All performers are strong in every character they play, but Jack Malone is particularly outstanding as Hester Leggett and Bernard Splisbury, she a dignified lady who lost her great love in the first world war, he a camp, sinister supplier of corpses. Completing the quintet is Zoe Roberts, sublime as Johnny Bevan, leader of the group, and providing a superb running gag about Ian Fleming. The five will have you roaring with laughter, but the beauty of the piece is that the story never gets lost, no matter how frenetic the action may get.
Excellently directed by Robert Hastie, fresh from his triumphant Standing At The Sky’s Edge, the musical works so well because it keeps in mind the real “Bill”, and the lives lost in the conflict. From the sheer, soaring delights of the Act Two opener, when Nazis rock the stage, (“Seriously?” asks Bevan of the audience, “Who’s side are you on?”) and a Beyonce-influenced All The Ladies, there are beautiful, poignant moments. Hester’s song Dear Bill, in which she reveals her lost love, will break your heart, and, as the show marches to a roof-raising Glitzy Finale, the action slows to reveal the real Man Who Never Was, and it is deeply moving. This show is a triumph and needs to be at the top of your list of “Must Sees”. To be in an audience that roars and screams with laughter and then fall silent as loss in remembered is quite an experience. Just go!