Operation Mincemeat at the Southwark Playhouse

A new musical is on, and its subject is the covert British operation during WW2 to confuse the Nazis before the invasion of Italy.
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In short, Operation Mincemeat is a musical about the great deception by the Allies in WW2 to convince the Germans that British and American forces would land in Sardinia rather than Sicily, when advancing on Italy. The act of misdirection was achieved through the plant of a supposed dead British pilot washing up on the shore, containing plans about the invasion of Sardinia. Ben Macintyre’s book, Operation Mincemeat, was a bestseller on the subject several years ago.

The story is not normally the stuff of comedies/musicals, but it works. And works well. Operation Mincemeat is a hit, a palpable hit. The plot, themes and characters remain remarkably faithful to the source material. Ian Fleming pops up at the beginning, but the main instigators of the ruse – Charles Cholmondeley and Ewen Montagu – provide the thread and focus of the narrative, which covers the pitching of the proposal to its execution and beyond.

Dextrous, witty lyrics accompany a jaunty score. The largely bare scenery is fleshed out by colourful performances and smart dialogue. Those who have seen the play will want to read the book, and those who have read the book will enjoy the play.

The cast hit the high notes, as well as the right notes, and perform admirably (even when performing as admirals). It would be unfair of me to single out individual performances – but life is unfair, so here goes. The leads of David Cumming and Natasha Hodgson carry the show, reminding one a little of Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel from The Producers. Claire Marie-Hall has heart – and lungs – as Jean Leslie, an unsung hero of the operation who here gets to sing and shine. The most affecting number of the night is delivered by Jak Malone as Hester Leggett – and shows that the production has something serious to say through the whimsy too. And, as for Zoe Roberts as Ian Fleming – nobody does it better. The writers, director and musicians should feel justly proud as well .

It was pleasing to see so many people of different ages enjoy the show. It was also pleasing to see the packed theatre celebrate the story of the man who never was. There were a few uncalled for and unwanted whoops throughout the production, but it’s nice to know that the Americans are over here again and supporting our shows once more.

I suspect that The Southwark Playhouse may not be the only venue to host a production of Operation Mincemeat over the coming years, but I would urge you to check out the show as soon as possible. And I have never tasted better coffee elsewhere at any theatre.

One suggestion I would put to the venue though is to stock Ben Macintyre’s book, as more than one audience member will want to immediately scratch the itch and find out more about the real story of the operation. Similarly, book sales will provide an extra revenue stream for the hard-hit sector.

Operation Mincemeat is on at the Southwark Playhouse until 18th September.