Its opening at the Fortune Theatre – blowing away the cobwebs of scarefest The Woman in Black, which ran for 33 years – comes almost exactly four years after the show’s first press night at the New Diorama theatre in May 2019. By all reports, it’s come a long way since then: slimming down in length but scaling up in farce, becoming sharper and pithier over its intervening runs at Southwark Playhouse and then Riverside Studios.
Operation Mincemeat, left to right: David Cumming, Claire-Marie Hall, Natasha Hodgson, Zoe Roberts and Jak Malone. Photo: Matt Crockett
Mercifully, its Big Boy success hasn’t seen it lose itself to commercialism. At its core, it’s still the same grassroots musical that fans fell in love with on smaller stages, conceived by former Kill the Beast members Natasha Hodgson, David Cumming and Zoë Roberts (all three of whom star in the show) together with composer Felix Hagan.
The aforementioned cast members are joined on stage by Jak Malone and Claire-Marie Hall, both of whom have been with the show since its infancy, and together, this quintuple of triple-threat performers deliver a musical theatre marathon, each playing a primary character within the MI5 team responsible for the mission, plus slipping between costumes and genders to play everybody they come across as they strive to complete it.
Operation Mincemeat, left to right: Claire-Marie Hall Zoe Roberts, David Cumming, Natasha Hodgson and Jak Malone. Photo: Matt Crockett
Ben Stones’ costumes, while glorious, are really just comedic decoration. As touched on in my review of the show at Riverside Studios, these characters belong entirely to the performances, and while all five are masters at impersonation, Hodgson’s blustering, manipulative British intelligence officer Euan Montagu and Malone’s prim and proper MI5 secretary Hester Leggett are searing examples that you don’t necessarily need wigs and prosthetics to morph gender.
The songs – a team effort that find their emotions through Hagan’s score – flit between catchy, jaunty numbers like fittingly patriotic Born to Lead, million-miles-per-hour raps such as gutsy, feminist All the Ladies, and slower, tender numbers like the tear-jerker Dear Bill. Astute musical direction from Joe Bunker ensures each of them lands with aplomb.
Operation Mincemeat, left to right: Claire-Marie Hall, Zoe Roberts, David Cumming, Natasha Hodgson and Jak Malone. Photo: Matt Crockett
Director Robert Hastie and designer Stones (both of whom come to the show fresh from delivering the National Theatre’s production of Olivier-winning musical Standing at the Sky’s Edge) together with lighting designer Mark Henderson (Girl from the North Country), lend fresh pizzazz to the staging, which features grid-like walls for war-related plotting, but later lights up like a multicoloured disco.
The book is watertight, poking gentle fun at everything from clichéd period characters to the government and the very genre of musical theatre. A littering of clever throughlines ensures the gags about each character build as the story progresses.
While fame eventually seduced intelligence officer Euan Montagu, who couldn’t help self-aggrandising his role in the mission through an autobiographical book-turned-film, there’s no sign of SpitLip letting the acclaim get in the way of their art just yet: much like the mission it’s named after, this show is a masterful operation that triumphs in its new West End home.
|What||Operation Mincemeat, Fortune Theatre review|
|Where||Fortune Theatre, Russell Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2B 5HH | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
29 Mar 23 – 19 Aug 23, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|