Review: OPERATION MINCEMEAT, Southwark Playhouse
Move Hamilton and Six. There’s a historic new musical in town and it’s making waves. After a sold-out first round at the New Diorama in the pre-covid era and another in 2020 at Southwark Playhouse, SplitLip’s Operation Minced Meat just returned to Elephant and Castle once more before returning next year. Almost looks like the West End needs to take that into account ASAP.
Regardless of genre, genre, and genuinely ingenious, it’s easy to see why the show has been overwhelmingly successful over the years. The performance is hilarious, the writing is simply exceptional, the songs are catchy, the jokes are original and the company is absolutely breathtaking.
The concept is as absurd as the actual historical event it is based on: a dark, comedic musical about a stolen corpse that was supposed to defeat the villains of WWII. It’s 1943 and the Nazis are pretty much everywhere in Europe. We are losing the war and the best minds in England have been called upon to do something.
What happened after that is a fine example of military deception. The body of a Royal Navy officer washes up on the Spanish coast with a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist. The secret correspondence between two British generals detailing their next moves suddenly ends up in the wrong hands. Here is the plot twist: Captain Guillaume Martin was nothing but a decoy, rightly created by the aforementioned geniuses to drive the Germans away from Sicily, granting them a solid victory.
Operation Minced Meat follows the group behind one of the most notable deception operations, and it does so by mixing story and comedy in a purely theatrical way. While the production has this je ne sais quoi that is vaguely reminiscent of Theater of Malicecreations of, SplitLip is proving to be a valid rival for the now hyper-prosperous company.
The performers are amazing. Natasha Hodgson is the officer responsible for spreading Ewen Montagu’s dreams and David Cumming is Charles Cholmondeley, the two officers behind the master plan. The latter’s nervousness is an inexhaustible source of humor, while Hodgson gives a cross-dressing masterclass. And speaking of cross-dressing, it only takes a few strokes and a perfectly placed curl on her forehead for Jak Malone to completely steal the show from her.
This is Hester Leggett, head of the secretarial unit and the most surprising of the characters. His steely posture, gestures and expressions bring Hester’s curious interests and hidden romanticism to life. He also works in the moonlight as the ship captain tasked with delivering the corpse and the scintillating coroner who procures the body, establishing the actor’s immense performance range.
They are joined by Claire-Marie room like Jean Leslie, a secretary with great fantasies of grandeur, and Zoe Roberts like Army Officer Johnny Bevan, who is at first weary and doubtful of the plan. With most of them juggling a handful of frenzied characters, the play is explosive in every way.
Cumming, Hodgson, and Roberts also act as writers and composers alongside glam-punk artist Felix Hagan (who is also musical director and keys to the show) while Donnacadh O’Briain runs the mad production. Jenny arnold eloquently choreographed and Sherry Coenen elevates it all with sublime lighting design.
A touching tribute to the man who made it all possible ends the show. As they pay homage to Glyndwr Michael, the homeless man who inadvertently changed the course of history forever, he sinks into the fact that what we have just witnessed under comedic lights has happened. actually produced and should be taken into account.
Operation Minced Meat is one of those shows where everything fits together so perfectly it’s a joy to write about it. Singing about Nazis, horny coroners, shady pathologists and a crazy idea that wins a war are just a few of the ingredients of this positively bonkers and unmistakably good musical.