Review: OPERATION MINCEMEAT

IN BRIEF Fast and funny musical burlesque of wartime deception from an impressively synchronised ensemble has potential to be a cult hit.

OPERATION MINCEMEAT is a polished burlesque on an outlandish but true World War Two mission designed to outwit German forces which succeeded. Appearing first as a book and then a film, this is the first time that it has received a musical comedy treatment and -surprisingly- it works beautifully, thanks to the creative effort invested in all departments by the SpitLip company’s creator/ performers.

During World War Two the British are constantly seeking novel ways to outwit the enemy. A minor player, Cholmondeley, comes up with a daring plan which is pushed by Montagu, lending the front that Cholmondeley lacks. The idea- to create a fake identity by dressing an anonymous corpse as a Marine officer whose body will wash up on Spanish shores carrying fake papers about a planned Allied invasion of Sardinia, to distract attention -and troops- from the real point of entry, Sicily. Putting the plan into action involves much crazy fun along the way, from forgetful morticians (“must have a head, must be a man”) to creating the corpse’s backstory, to suspicions about who can be trusted.

Playing at a satisfyingly fast clip, the show has the chutzpah to get away with its smart, intricate lyrics and catchy tunes (the one-upmanship of the early “God That’s Brilliant” sets the tone) while having the sense to vary the pace and tone with solo pieces which take a more reflective feel. Songs like Cholmondeley’s “Dead In The Water”, “Stand Up Cholmondeley”, and especially Hester’s moving love letter song (a lovely, simple, extended conversational ballad sung exquisitely by Jak Malone) all vary the tone and, in creating sympathy of character in the midst of the cartoonish fun, make us realise that this show has more to offer than just a simple burlesque.

SpitLip have set the bar very high, and have invested huge effort into this show which pays off. Singing, movement, diction are all precise and accomplished. Choreography/movement is similarly lively and again well-drilled. Physical comedy is particularly well-spotted, and split second timing is extended to lighting too as we rapidly switch between scenes in a submarine and a nightclub, via a smart lighting set by Sherry Coenen.

As the character whose development we see most of, Cholmondeley, David Cumming is possessed of that magnetism you can’t make, channelling the comic best of Jerry Lewis both in look and physicality, which draws your eye to his tiny pieces of business and movement throughout the show. Unlike Lewis, he knows just when to rein it in. He also has a strong and attractive singing voice which is rightly given a number of outings.

All of the cast of five assume a wide variety of supporting roles, working effectively as an ensemble, making split-second changes look easy both with words and actions. The four SpitLip founders who have written and composed this show work as a unit both in making and playing the show, as well as, I assume, directing it jointly (there is no director credit). I do think it might have been interesting to have seen what an outside director might have brought to the show, however that is just an out-loud thought.

The excellent band of three are led by MD/joint composer Felix Hagan, part of the team who have fleshed out the story with a very entertaining mix of songs and styles. Hagan’s virtuosity on the keyboards adds greatly to the overall impact of the score. The intricate and clever lyrics demand attention, in the rapid-fire songs almost challenging the audience to keep up, creating something of a euphoric feeling when these fast-paced songs conclude.

All of the numbers may not immediately stick in the mind (easily remedied by a trip to SoundCloud – a live recording of the whole show next please!), but the energy of the performances does, and the audience leaves on a high, having had a great night out.

OPERATION MINCEMEAT’s broad appeal and enthusiastic reception in the New Diorama’s intimate theatre space suggests that it has the potential to become one of those rare theatrical cult hits. It deserves to have a future life, including touring and a return to London. At this high level of execution, it’s a direct hit of fun.

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