How good is Operation Mincemeat?
When I saw it 12 months ago at Riverside Studios, I thought it a marvellously tart, wry, original musical that got away from the blundering cliches of the formula-bound movie musicals plaguing the West End.
Second time round I admire it more; partly because its surface joy seems to conceal a great wit, partly because it has the whiplash precision of the best shows plus a good deal of intellectual prescience.
“I don’t know what’s going on!” “Welcome to the British government” goes one exchange.
It’s a bold and imaginative work—a fizzing work and it’s important to mention Operation Mincemeat was nurtured at that powerhouse of a London fringe venue, the New Diorama.
Rob Hastie has been brought in as director to finesse the piece and it has paid off. He is an intelligent, tentative director — see: Standing At The Sky’s Edge — which is another way of saying that his virtues are largely negative.
Stones’ sensational design places the audience in the MI5 headquarters, while Jak Malone merits a medal of honour as the staunch secretary Hester Leggett, who performs a standout love-letter song.
This clever spoof musical tackles a secret service ruse in which the body of an unknown homeless man was used as a decoy, leading German troops away from Sicily in 1943.
It has a powerful and gripping plot, hardly a single extractable tune, a fierce sense of self awareness. The triumph of Hastie’s production and Stones’ design lies in their visualisation of SplitLip’s ideas.
In this regard, the show was concocted by a genius young cast of five: Natasha Hodgson, David Cumming and Zoë Roberts, who were later joined by Jak Malone and Claire-Marie Hall.
It’s very neatly done, the fine quintet of actors rising to the technical challenges of a piece that worms its way into the brain and send you scurrying out into the city blinking – and more attuned to the majesty of serendipity.
The score — it was put together by Cumming, Hagan, Hodgson & Roberts — has a life of its own that gives the show a buzzing vitality.
Indeed, Operation Mincemeat may turn out to be the most liberating musical ever made. The whole production is a joy; a five year overnight success story.
I loved it.
Operation Mincemeat runs at the Fortune theatre, London, until 19 August