What do you get when you mix a little bit of ‘Hamilton’ with a dash of ‘Six’, add a little drop of ‘Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World’ and throw in just a smidgeon of ‘Horrible Histories’ for good measure?
Well, dear reader, I’ll tell you what you get. If you add all of those things together, you get ‘Operation Mincemeat’, the little musical that is making a big impact and taking the West End by storm.
In real life, Operation Mincemeat was a little known plot that aided in the winning of the Second World War, a secret mission that saw fake strategies and plans planted on a corpse that convinced German soldiers to change their plans, leaving the allied forces free to strike. Put together by a team of MI5 agents, the operation was the key to success, and whilst it is now much more known about, and has since had a film made all about it, you’ve never seen a war story told quite like this before.
With just five performers, each playing multiple characters and bouncing through 17 musical numbers with an apparent ease, ‘Operation Mincemeat’ expertly combines old school class with modern style, quick change comedy with multi-roleplaying fun, and history with the 21st century.
This production has you laughing from the very first minute as we are introduced to the workers of MI5 who proudly proclaim that they are the brains of the operation, brave enough to win the war from the comfort of their office because their fathers gave them courage (plus those ponies and that yacht). These larger than life characters instantly win you over, from the egotistical Ewen Montagu (Natasha Hodgson) to the clever but nervous Charles Cholmondeley (David Cumming), to war office typist with dreams of breaking down the walls of the men’s club (Claire-Marie Hall) big boss that leads the way Johnny Bevan (Geri Allen) and stick to the rules, everything in its place Hester Leggett (played at the performance I attended by Christian Andrews). You get to know these characters quickly, and you are always willing them on to succeed.
Along the way we meet many other characters, from Coroner Spilsbury, Spanish war office representatives, German soldiers and even MI5 worker turned famous author Ian Fleming.
Hodgson’s Montague is the showman, the man who believes he knows it all and has everything under control, because he believes that when he writes his own story, he can make his own rules. Cumming’s Cholmondeley is quieter, more used to sticking to the rules as he becomes drawn into Montague’s world. Jean, played brilliantly by Claire-Marie Hall, is a modern women who dreams of doing big things in a world ruled by men and she isn’t afraid to talk back. Her number ‘All the Ladies’ is girl power illustrated, and wouldn’t be out of place in ‘Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World’s’ gallery of greatness. Geri Allen earns many a laugh as the powerful MI5 boss Bevan and the bumbling Haselden, impressing greatly with her delivery of many high speed lyrics. Christian Andrew’s performance as Hester and others simply must be applauded, jumping from character to character with ease whilst giving the show perhaps one of its most unexpected moments, a powerful ballad ‘Dear Bill’ that really gives the show it’s heart.
The genius of this production, I believe, lies in how it is put together. The music is incredibly catchy, with fun upbeat numbers coming thick and fast laden with clever witty lyrics that raise many a laugh from the captivated audience. With the performers changing characters so often and so quickly, it would be easy to become lost in the speed of it all, and whilst I did have the benefit of having seen the film and learnt the story, I found it easy to keep up, testament to how Splitlip (the company behind the show) have taken a complicated story and created a laugh out loud out of it. Jokes are effortlessly slipped into the historical settings, from references to the London cockney stereotype, the born into money boy’s club we have all heard of and the secretive nature of the story itself. The decision to have Montague played by a women, and Hester played by a man is genius, as due to the fact that it is never really addressed, it can be seen to illustrate the blurring of the lines between jobs for men and jobs for women that World War Two caused.
Overall, before I ramble on for far too long, you could easily describe ‘Operation Mincemeat’ as the little show that could. From humble beginnings came something big. With its heart in a true story, packed to the brim with songs, jokes, quick changes and a ridiculous amount of style, this production is a crowd pleaser, something that deserves a long run. I can only see a very bright future for this one.