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BWW Review: OPERATION MINCEMEAT, Southwark Playhouse

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SplitLip dazzle again with a slightly revised version of their award-winning musical before returning to Southwark Playhouse next year.

BWW Review: OPERATION MINCEMEAT, Southwark Playhouse

BWW Review: OPERATION MINCEMEAT, Southwark Playhouse Move over Hamilton and Six. There's a new historical musical in town and it's creating ripples. After a sold-out debuting run at the New Diorama back in pre-covid times and another one in 2020 at Southwark Playhouse, SplitLip's Operation Mincemeat has just returned to Elephant and Castle once more before coming back again next year. It almost looks like the West End needs to take notice ASAP.

Gender-blind, genre-hopping, and genuinely ingenious, it's easy to see why the show's garnered overwhelming success over the years. The delivery is hilarious, the writing is nothing short of exceptional, the songs are catchy, the jokes are original, and the company is absolutely astounding.

The concept is as absurd as the real historical event it's based on: a darkly comical musical about a stolen corpse that was meant to defeat the bad guys of the Second World War. It's 1943 and the Nazi are pretty much all over Europe. We're losing the war and the finest minds in England have been summoned to do something about it.

What happened after that is a slick example of military deception. The body of a Royal Marine officer washes up on the Spanish coast with a briefcase cuffed to his wrist. The secret correspondence between two British generals detailing their next moves suddenly ends up in the wrong hands. Here lies the plot twist: Captain William Martin was nothing but a decoy, appositely created by the aforementioned geniuses to lead the Germans away from Sicily, granting them a solid win.

Operation Mincemeat follows the group behind one of the most noteworthy deception operations, and it does so by mixing history and comedy in purely theatrical fashion. While the production has that je-ne-sais-quoi that is vaguely recalling of Mischief Theatre's creations, SplitLip turn out to be a valid rival to the now hyper-successful company.

The performers are astonishing. Natasha Hodgson is manspreading officer with screenwriting dreams Ewen Montagu and David Cumming is Charles Cholmondeley, the two officers behind the master plan. The latter's nervous disposition is a never-ending source of humour, while Hodgson gives a masterclass in cross-dressing. And speaking of cross-dressing, it only takes a few lines and a perfectly placed curl on his forehead for Jak Malone to steal the show completely.

He is Hester Leggett, the head of the secretarial unit and the most surprising of the characters. His posture, gestures, and steely expressions give life to Hester's curious interests and hidden romanticism. He also moonlights as the sea captain who's in charge of delivering the corpse and the glittery coroner who sources the body, establishing the actor's humongous range of performance.

They are joined by Claire-Marie Hall as Jean Leslie, a secretary with big fantasies of grandeur, and Zoe Roberts as Army officer Johnny Bevan, who's initially weary and doubtful of the plan. With most of them juggling a handful of uproarious characters, the piece is explosive in every sense.

Cumming, Hodgson, and Roberts act as writers and composers too alongside glam-punk artist Felix Hagan (who's also musical director and keys for the show) while Donnacadh O'Briain directs the mad production. Jenny Arnold eloquently choreographs and Sherry Coenen heightens it all with a sublime lighting design.

A touching tribute to the man who made it all possible ends the show. As they pay their respects to Glyndwr Michael, the homeless man who inadvertently changed the course of history forever, it sinks in that what we've just witnessed under comedic lights actually happened and needs to be taken stock of.

Operation Mincemeat is one of those shows where everything comes together so perfectly that it's a joy to write about it. Singing Nazis, overexcited coroners, dodgy pathologists, and a crazy idea that wins a war are only some of the ingredients for this positively bonkers and unquestionably good musical.

Operation Mincemeat runs at Southwark Playhouse until 18 September and again from 14 January to 19 February 2022.


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