Operation Mincemeat review – Best show in town is back, bigger and better

I confess I approached the West End transfer of this show with matching excitement and trepidation. Would it lose all that gloriously anarchic, improv alchemy with a bigger budget and full-size theatre and stage to fill? Four years after it made its debut in the Arcola Theatre, the little show that roared in the face of bloated blockbusters has executed a flawless transition to mainstream triumph with impeccable class, quicksilver shine and its trademark plucky determination to remain true to itself. It’s as fabulously funny, wickedly witty and magnificently moving as before – just with added sequins.

Madcap and utterly marvelous, this uproarious musical from the SpitLip team (Natasha Hodgson, David Cumming and Zoe Roberts, who wrote the show and star, alongside Zak Mallone and Claire-Marie Hall) is as bonkers as the true-life story it tells.

In 1943, at the height of World War II when our Forces were in desperate straits, a daring British plan saw the body of a fake drowned officer planted on Spanish shores, carrying fabricated plans for invading Sardinia. It persuaded Hitler to move troops out of Sicily, paving the way for the Allied invasion.

The extraordinarily talented cast of just two men and three women merrily whirl between characters (and genders), often mid-song, from pompous ministry chaps (including Bond author Ian Fleming) and plucky secretaries to submarine sailors, showgirls, camp undertakers and, oh yes, dancing Nazis. Mel Brooks would have been proud.

Like the feverish, fast-talking, wisecracking love child of Tim Minchin, Monty Python and Lin-Manuel Miranda, it blends every musical genre and delivers a dazzling array of pastiche treats and belly laughs, backed by the excellent live band.

If it was just a jolly farce about class, gender and pluckily defeating the Hun, it would be a hoot. But it suddenly, exquisitely, becomes something more when (young and male) Malone, as unassuming spinster Hester Leggett, quietly sings of a love lost to the previous war. Amid all the hilarity, the theatre fell completely silent, and we all wept.

This show understands where so many ponderously fail that if you make us laugh, you can then move and engage us – entertain us and we will listen to what you have to say. 


A deeply moving coda also pays poignant tribute to the dead homeless man Glyndwr Michael, whose body was used rather callously at the time for the drowned officer. 

We are moved, however, precisely because the laughter and joy also just keep coming, in giddily entertaining number after number.

The staging retains the original’s simplicity, but enjoys the perks of bigger sets and clever tricks. The costumes have a bit more sparkle, sure, but the cast happily told me that they took huge satisfaction in blowing a major chunk of the budget entirely on an unexpectedly, ridiculously OTT finale which goes full Broadway with bells on.  

This show was already a major triumph, now it is sheer perfection.


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