Review: Operation Mincemeat
Image: New Diorama Theatre
Cholmondeley - David Cumming
Montagu - Natasha Hodgson
Jean - Rory Furey-King
Hester - Jak Malone
Bevan - Zoe Roberts
Musical director and keys - Felix Hagan
Bass guitar and synth - Ellen O'Reilly
Drums - Lewis Jenkins
The year is 1943 and we're losing the war.
Luckily, we're about to gamble all our futures on a stolen corpse.
Operation Mincemeat is the fast-paced, hilarious and unbelievable true story of the twisted secret mission that won us World War II.
The question is, how did a well-dressed corpse wrong-foot Hitler?
Operation Mincemeat is Singin' In The Rain meets Strangers On A Train, Noel Fielding meets Noel Coward, in a new collaboration between three members of award winning Kill the Beast and glam-punk composer Felix Hagan.
Commissioned by New Diorama Theatre and co-commissioned by The Lowry.
It's almost impossible not to conclude that the British are obsessed by wars of the past - especially the Second World War and the archetypal dastardly adversaries: the Nazis.
Now I'm not saying we should forget the terrible events of the past - far from it, since we can learn much from history, and participants who gave their lives deserve remembrance and recognition.
But when, three quarters of a century after the end of World War II, we still find documentaries, films, books and other media fetching-up about it on a fairly regular basis it does start to feel uncomfortably akin to an obsession rather than mere academic or passing fascination.
And here, to underline that point, is a story about ... World War II.
Ok, there's a bit of a difference in this musical endeavour because it examines an interesting side-story that turned out to have a significant impact on one particular theatre of that bloody and dreadful conflict.
In 1943, with not much going right for the allies, a decision was made to invade Italy via Sicily.
To avoid massive casualties through resistance from substantial German forces located in Sicily, the British hatched an ingenious deception to make the enemy divert resources prior to the invasion commencing.
That plot was known as Operation Mincemeat and involved a dead body carrying secret documents being delivered to foreign shores, to be discovered by the Spanish who handed the classified papers on to the Germans.
This musical's portrayal of the basic story is pretty-well faithful, even including the appearance of one well-known character, Ian Fleming (of James Bond fame) who may well have been responsible for hatching the fiendishly-clever plot in the first place.
And there's a nice touch in the well-placed recognition to the man whose body enabled the deception to succeed.
The first half of this production finds plans being laid and the body duly despatched, but that leaves little for the second half to explore and events meander into oddly-contrived 'waiting' territory that felt dramatically barren.
In fact, the endeavour could easily have been reduced to one, much shorter act with considerable benefits.
Of course, the dreaded Nazis duly fetch-up - though they hardly do very much, except to perform an almost incomprehensible song, adding nothing to the story.
Five actors take on all the many roles here and impress with their ability to quickly and effectively switch-gear and deliver diverse characters.
Moreover, their singing is individually and collectively impressive with uniformly commendable talent in evidence.
The music is also well-played by a 3-piece band, and there's ample variety in the compositions with interesting melodic atmosphere in some of the slower songs.
There are some wry comedic moments in the first half, but Operation Mincemeat is not especially funny overall - not farcical enough at times and insufficiently subtle at others.
The show falters in the second half when the plot almost evaporates, and the period of the setting and the overall musical style often collide rather than augmenting each other.
SpitLip's production clearly milks our enduring obsession with World War II, but nevertheless deserves recognition for highlighting a little-known, yet daring wartime venture, and taking a daringly off-beat approach to describing it.
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