I think I may have seen the best production of 2022 and we still haven’t reached February, writes Michael Holland…
Operation Mincemeat has already won The Stage Debut award for Best Composer/Lyricist, the Off-West End award for Best Company Ensemble, and was listed in The Observer‘s Top 10 shows of the year because it has been around since 2019, but every time it opens the show gets closed down by Covid. I believe this is its third attempt at a run at Southwark Playhouse, so I was determined to see it before the new variant came and caused more chaos.
The book, music and lyrics are written by SpitLip, three of whom are in the cast, and because they have had a lot of downtime to rehearse and fine tune their brilliant creation it manifests itself in what can only be described as perfect performances.
Operation Mincemeat tells the true story of a secret WWII mission to stop a German invasion that went a long way in securing ultimate victory for the Allies, but it is told in a crazy and hilarious way.
This production seems as if a group of friends got together with a few bottles one mood-altered night and decided to write a spoof of all the great creators of musicals and came up with this. Hence, glimpses of Fosse, Sondheim, Kander & Ebb, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Eminem(!), plus a magical ensemble take on Beyoncé’s All The Single Ladies.
The cast of five mostly double up roles, so the mousy girl in the typing pool at one point slinks on like she’s escaping from Chicago the Musical to sing a raunchy tune that fed in to the Nazis goose-stepping to a Beastie Boys number; and how the very serious head of the Secretarial Unit metamorphoses into a flamboyant Bernard Spilsbury, the pathologist, will remain etched on my mind for many moons to come.
But amid this company of greatness two stood out for me. David Cumming has taken the true description of Charles Cholmondeley as ‘eccentric’ and took it to comedic extremes, to Jerry Lewis levels of physicality and facial expressions; and Natasha Hodgson’s comic timing as Ewen Montagu is beautiful to watch. She stole every scene she was in, which was a feat in itself in such esteemed company.
SpitLip and all connected to this wonderful piece of work deserve all the awards and accolades that come their way, and as well as a festival of fun there is a final, poignant tribute to Glyndwr Michael, the man who sadly died alone, whose body was used in tricking Hitler and changing the course of the war.
As the lights went down, we all stood as one to clap, whistle and cheer this amazing show.
Invade the box office now before it is too late.
Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London, SE1 6BD until 19th February. Times: Mon-Sat 7.30pm; Tues &Sat matinees 3pm. Admission: £27.50, £22.
Booking: www.southwarkplayhouse.com – 0207 407 0234